“John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum” is nothing more than a gluttonous onslaught of gratuitous violence

May 15th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum” is nothing more than a gluttonous onslaught of gratuitous violence”

In the decade-long career of reviewing films, I cannot recall a more disturbingly grotesque display of violence in a film as I witnessed in “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” directed by Chad Stahelski and starring Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, and Laurence Fishburne. Wick (Reeves) returns as the member of the elite assassins group who broke the rules in “John Wick: Chapter 2” and killed a target on sacred ground…all in retaliation for killing his puppy dog. The consequences? He then becomes the mark with a high price on his head—direct orders from the “High Table.” He must fight to survive and make allies in order to have a hope of living life again. And that, my friends, is all you need to know if you missed out on the film’s two predecessors or if you’re being dragged and tortured to see this film as a severe punishment for some unforgivable sin.

The beginning of the film is dark and turns incredibly violent in the blink of an eye. There’s a gory pun there, but I’ll let you find that out if you still go see this movie after reading my review. In fact, it was so brutally shocking that audible explicatives were uttered involuntarily throughout the film, much to the surprise of my colleagues sitting next to me. The killings begin “by the book” and within moments, our visual onslaught becomes the high-speed chase scenes and long action shots filled with outstanding choreography setting the tone for the entire movie. Wick appears to be some sort of super hero, without being one, as he is able to bounce back after being stabbed in the shoulder, hit by a car, twice, crash through windows, plummet from stories above, and still fight like a ninja warrior.

There really isn’t much of a story in this film, although when The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) shows up to mete out the consequences for her subordinates’ actions, there’s a promise that it just might get interesting. Unfortunately, that’s not what happens. The entire film is comprised of chase scenes, savage bloodshed that becomes mundane, and shots to the head killing faceless and nameless souls, ultimately creating a movie that is more like watching someone play a violent video game.

“John Wick: Chapter 3” is one of the most insipid movies of the decade. Some may argue that there’s humor in this film, and I would agree. Zero (Mark Dacascos) who is Wick’s biggest enemy and his biggest fan, provides a bit of unexpected levity, but it’s not enough to forgive this film its greatest transgression—no story. Much to my surprise, the audience seemed to find many of the most repulsive savagery laugh out loud funny.

Were the special effects impressive? Yes. So impressive that the hatchet to the head will forever be ingrained in my memory. And there are the multiple brain bursts against stone walls as the bullet explodes “the enemies” faces which in turn elicited high anxiety as I drove aggressively home from Chicago that night. There are also incredible motorcycle and horseback chase scenes that still boggle my mind as to how they were performed. And finally, the hand-to-hand combat choreography was as well-orchestrated as any Boshoi Ballet performance.

However, none of this impressive implementation of stunts or effects can make up for the lack of a story. And given this lack of any substance, is it possible to find characters that you care about? No. In fact, no actual acting is necessary in this film especially given the fact that there’s barely any dialogue. And any utterance from Wick is as flatlined as the myriad number of dead bodies piled up. I ask you this. How many times can you watch one person and sometimes a team of two fire a bullet to the groin, then body, then the head? This, too, becomes a trance-like dance: shoot the groin, shoot the body, shoot the head, fall, repeat.

The film created as many situations as possible to skirmish, as if going through a check-list, covering all bases including a gun fight under water. There’s even a portion of the film that adds attack German Shepherds for a change of pace. Again, the cinematography is extraordinary, working under extremely difficult conditions and set-ups with long shots of well-orchestrated combat scenes, but can you really watch over 2 hours of this alone?

I harken back to the wise words of Robert Redford—Is it a good story told well? And the answer to this question is a resounding, “No!”

“John Wick: Chapter 3” is going to the top of my list for worst film of the decade. Skip this absolute piece garbage.

1 Stars for the cinematographers and choreographers

“Buffaloed” A top film at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival

May 8th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Buffaloed” A top film at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival”

Screenwriter Brian Sacca hands over the directing reigns to the talented Tanya Wexler as she tackles the real-life subject of the unscrupulous scavengers known as debt collectors in a fictional tale starring Zoey Deutch. The story takes place in the booming metropolis of Buffalo, NY, known for and priding itself on Buffalo Wild Wings (Anchor Bar or Duffs?) and the Buffalo Bills. With a sprinkling of The Big Short style to this story we learn everything about the entity of unregulated debt collecting while laughing out loud.

Bouncing back and forth in time and using narration to get us up to speed, Peg (Deutch) explains how she came to a point of wielding a gun and screaming at the top of her lungs. She’s whip-smart, but when she pits herself against the head honcho in the “industry,” she finds that debts aren’t always financial ones. It’s a high-paced, quick-witted film that capitalizes on the charisma of its lead actress and a story that is as engaging as it is informative and entertaining. With a supporting cast the likes of Judy Greer who plays Peg’s mom, Jai Courtney as a mob boss and a cast of personable misfits as her crew, it’s a winning equation.

3 1/2 stars

For more great films made by women at this year’s festival, go to FF2 Media

“Long Shot” Makes a political-rom-com a winner

May 3rd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Long Shot” Makes a political-rom-com a winner”

Can there possible be such a thing as a political rom-com that appeals to everyone no matter what side of the fence they reside? The combination sounds impossible, but “Long Shot,” starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogan, does it with impeccable skill. Charlotte (Theron) is a high power political figure as the Secretary of State who, by chance, bumps into a rebellious journalist who she used to babysit for. The unlikely pair team up in a run for the upcoming presidential election, creating hilarious and unexpectedly charming situations.

Charlotte has always been a go-getter. With her single-minded drive and determination, she works under President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) who used to play a president on television. Charlotte’s frustration is evident, but she plays by the books, her intelligence always keeping her one step ahead. Fred Flarsky (Rogan) is unkempt, volatile, but passionate about exposing the truth and never compromising his integrity, but as his “independent” newspaper is bought by a big-money tycoon, he quits…on principle, but those principles don’t pay the bills. Seeking solace in his best friend whose beyond successful, Lance, (O’Shea Jackson), the two hit the high profile party scene, and Fred makes a memorable if not awkward impression on Charlotte.

Fred becomes Charlotte’s speech writer and the two get reacquainted, both helping one another to become a better person, but as the two could not be more opposite, Charlotte becomes an easy target for manipulation, pushing the boundaries of her unyielding moral compass. Incorporating all the snares of public life that we are constantly exposed to such as social media platforms, videos, and good old fashioned blackmailing, the story becomes a lesson in what’s important. It’s an unlikely pairing and a fast-paced, crazy story that is completely consuming (and even a little believable) as they expound upon the realities of the world which is always watching.

Rogan, unkempt and dressed from a by-gone era, is certainly type cast in this role, but that’s a good thing as he hones his comedic skills and elevates his game with the “Hollywood royalty” as Jackson recently described Theron in a recent interview. As polar opposite as he seems to Theron, the two have chemistry and create a magic that captures your heart as you root for the two to succeed…however that may be defined.

Theron always plays a tough, smart woman who is not to be underestimated and now we can add comic wonder to her list of skills. Her timing is impeccable as she plays off of Rogan and her subtle gestures and expressions land a lot of laughs effortlessly. We also see her push the boundaries we have set for her as she reaches outside of the box to create an unpredictable character.

The entire cast is stellar, supporting the lead actors with deft skill. June Diane Raphael plays Maggie, the uptight, judgmental political assistant and advisor to Charlotte who never overplays her part, but slips right into the role easily. Jackson knocks his performance out to the park to create one of the most memorable supporting roles this year. Co-writers Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah give him an opportunity to shine and deliver a shocking twist that makes you not only laugh out loud, but also actually think about your own preconceived notions.

While this film, on the surface, is merely a comedy, there’s so much more to it. The characters are all well-developed with our main characters are richly layered in a way that we connect with them. Given the political environment that consumes us today, the film reels us back and helps to ground our thoughts making it a more insightful film than expected.

“Long shot” is a surprise on every level. It’s a rom-com with subtle political overtones that harmoniously coordinate to give us a film that just might rival “When Harry Met Sally” for a new decade of viewers.

4 Stars

“Avengers: Endgame” Is a dynamic, dramatic, and hilarious film worth all 181 minutes

April 24th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Avengers: Endgame” Is a dynamic, dramatic, and hilarious film worth all 181 minutes”

“Avengers: Endgame” is one of the most highly anticipated films of the year as the answers to all the fans’ questions come into clear focus and the super hero worlds not only overlap, but collide in surprising ways. It’s an all-star arena filled with “marvel”ous characters in a fight for life, humanity, and the future of the world and the universe. (Don’t worry–no spoilers ahead!)

The evil Thanos (Josh Brolin) possesses all the Infinity Stones making him the most powerful being in the universe. And with that power, he has cursed the world, culling the population by 50%. “Endgame” picks up exactly where “Infinity War” left off and it’s an affective beginning as we see Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) with his loving family enjoying their time together only to be turned to dust. The impact of this emotionally loaded initial scene is unexpectedly shocking and not only are we hooked, we care about and relate to this family and Hawkeye’s devastation. And then the opening credits begin to roll.

Fast forward to 5 years later and the catastrophic results of Thanos’ work is more than evident— cities are in a state of shambles, but the oceans and natural environment are beginning to balance once again. The remaining super hero allies band together in what seems to be a losing battle to right this sinking ship and not a spark of hope is detected among them…until an Avenger thought to be dead, resurfaces. And this is where the fun begins!

From the depths of an emotionally heavy load, we are immediately bouyed into hilarious one-liners, side notes, and quick-paced dialogue and antics to remind us why we love comic books. Without giving one surprise away (I fear losing friends if I do), “Endgame” ranks up in the comedy hierarchy with the hilarity of stand alone super hero films like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ironman.” With references to some of our favorite films of the last 40 years and costuming that transforms these heroes into unexpected yet disturbingly funny renditions of themselves, for most of the 3 hour 1 minute (yes, you read that correctly) running time, it’s a captivatingly intriguing and funny film while it still creates an entertainingly entangled story to wrap your head around.

The story truly needed most of that 3 hour time period in order to create the thorough and emotionally dynamic storyline, although the last 30 minutes could have been edited quite a bit as the CGI begins to feel a bit mundane. (But that’s my issue with every super hero film.) I must admit that it’s a complicated story that intellectually makes sense as it delves into the waters of our environment and the cost of humanity and our memories. It is these memories that make us human and compassionate; an element that adheres us to one another. The writers cover all their bases, leaving no possible stone unturned, pulling you into their vortex of logic and reason while they connect you to the characters. Every past story is covered in well-balanced detail and of course, we have the directors and actors to thank for bringing such textured performances to those words on the page.

Watching this all-star cast in their respective roles feels like a family reunion, everyone knowing each other like family, the good and the bad. They love one another and have their squabbles, only to have each others’ backs when they need to. They are family. There’s a comfort in seeing this relaxed and familiar camaraderie even during times of dire situations and it is this interaction among and between the characters that not only propels the story, but engages us. We have become an invested part of this family.

“Endgame” showcases female empowerment, too, as we watch them rise to any challenge, physically, emotionally, and intellectually, and these women shine. To single out any particular female super hero would be to spoil the film, so I won’t. Suffice it to say, the it’s a male-female gender balanced film.

This is also a visually powerful film. The action is impressive as are the special effects and while this is what makes fans of this genre happy, it’s the levity that Ironman, Thor, Rocket, Ant Man and Quill bring to the table. When Robert Downey, Jr. Paul Rudd, and Chris Hemsworth interact, you have a comedy team that could make the Queen of England belly laugh. All three of these actors have the comedic timing and pacing to get the most from their lines and scenes, but when the dramatic elements are needed, they are at the ready, adding just the right touch and never doing so in a heavy-handed way.

“Avengers: Endgame” was a wonderful surprise, filling almost each and every minute with excitement, drama, humor and visually interesting and entertaining intrigue. While the 3 hour running time was a bit long, needing a 10-minute edit, that’s not a huge detractor from the film. It’s a strong story, great acting and directing, and a wonderfully well-balanced film on every level. If you’ve seen all of the Marvel movies, and this truly is a must to get full enjoyment from “Endgame,” the film is perfect escapism and an all ‘round good time. (No need to stay after the credits roll.)

4 Stars

Chicago filmmaker Clare Cooney’s “Runner” available on VOD

April 20th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Chicago filmmaker Clare Cooney’s “Runner” available on VOD”

What would you do, truly, if you witnessed an accidental, yet brutal murder? First-time filmmaker Clare Cooney plunges herself into that question in this captivating short film “Runner.”

Cooney stars in this thriller as Becca, a young woman going on a routine run in her neighborhood on a wintry day in Chicago. Stopping in the alley behind her apartment, ear pods in, music muting the situation before her, we see what she sees…a man and woman arguing. Suddenly, the woman is struck and she collapses. With eye contact made, Becca responds to fight or flight and she runs.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

How she responds next is chillingly real. Finding safety in her apartment and with her boyfriend, her emotions pour, but her decision whether or not to report this man is what’s in question. Learning of the demise of the woman in the alley punctuates the emotional impact and trauma Becca experiences in her every day life, but where is this man? Does he live in her neighborhood? Will she ever bump into him? There’s a feeling of terror bubbling beneath the surface as Becca attempts to go back to her regular daily activities. It’s a visceral experience as we watch Becca in every scene, connecting with her, eliciting our heart to race in suspense, fearing for her safety. Internalizing her emotions, we question what we would do, but the film becomes even more profound as it delves subtly into gender issues of power and intimidation.

“Runner” is an extraordinary portrayal of one woman’s strength and integrity as she is thrust into life and death situations and moral ambiguity for self preservation. Cooney’s depth of character allows us to sense the complexity of the situation and the heightened emotional response, always with authenticity. With this, we are able to walk, or should I say, run, in her shoes, feeling as she does and thinking her every thought.

Cooney, wearing the hats of writer, director, editor, producer, and actress, demonstrates proficiency expected from a seasoned filmmaker, not a first-timer. Not for one minute is any aspect of this film compromised in her overwhelming attempt to wear all of these hats. The script is succinct, the camera work is exceptional, augmenting the storyline, and the overall production value on par with any “big” film. And with a $900 budget, an acting ensemble cast that supports her vision, an experienced co-producer, Shane Simmons, and one of the most promising Chicago cinematographers, Jason Chiu (“Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party” and “Mercury in Retrograde”), Cooney has set the tone for success.

This multiple award-winning short film is available online on Omeleto Channel beginning Tuesday, April 23rd.
OMELETO CHANNEL-YOUTUBE

“Breakthrough” Uplifting, but heavy-handed

April 20th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Breakthrough” Uplifting, but heavy-handed”

What could be better at this time of year, just before Easter Sunday, than the Christian-themed film “Breakthrough?” This uplifting, faith-affirming film stars Topher Grace (“Blackkklansman”), Chrissy Metz (“This Is Us”) and Marcel Ruiz and is based on a true story from St. Charles, Mo., in 2015.

The story is an amazing and inexplicable one, but unfortunately, the writer felt the need to hit you over the head with its messages of “have faith” and “the power of love.”

It’s a heavy-handed portrayal of these real life events as you always feel that you are watching a movie or even a play where the director is telling her actors, “Everyone look happy to be in school and you love each other!”

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

Director Gillian Greene on Comedy “Fanboy” and Finding Humor in Everyday Life

April 15th, 2019 Posted by News, Review 0 thoughts on “Director Gillian Greene on Comedy “Fanboy” and Finding Humor in Everyday Life”

Hollywood appears to be ground zero for #MeToo and #TimesUp which has opened the eyes of all and the doors for women, especially in creating director seats. While we still have a long way to go, one woman, Gillian Greene, who’s been a part of Hollywood her entire life, is seated comfortably in that director’s chair and released her short film “Fanboy” via Amazon on March 22. While the film was only meant to demonstrate her skills as a director to get work for feature films, Greene wanted to share this charming comedy about a South Carolina video store employee (Fran Kranz) who dreams of being in Sam Raimi’s sequel to “For Love of the Game” and tries his hand at the Hollywood scene.

The vivacious mother of five who’s husband is Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man”) and is the daughter of the beloved actor Lorne Greene (“Bonanza”) spoke with me recently about making “Fanboy,” her life, and what’s next. (Edited for length and clarity.)

To read the interview as it appears in the Monday, April 15, 2019 edition, go to CINEMA FEMME

EBERTFEST Q&A’s prove to be unpredictably hilarious

April 14th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “EBERTFEST Q&A’s prove to be unpredictably hilarious”

Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon entertain a packed house at Ebertfest for their film BOUND. Watch the entire Q&A here: EBERTFEST

David Mirkin sets the record straight and sings a little song during his Q&A for ROMY AND MICHELE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION. Watch the entire Q&A here: EBERTFEST

4th DOC10 Film Festival is right around the corner

April 9th, 2019 Posted by News, Review 0 thoughts on “4th DOC10 Film Festival is right around the corner”

The Chicago Media Project’s Doc10 Film Festival is gearing up for its fourth year with 10 award-winning documentaries from other film festivals, such as the prestigious 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

The festival will take place April 11-14 in Lincoln Square at the Davis Theatre (4614 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago). It will showcase thought-provoking films, a VR-RV (Virtual Reality), special panel discussions and workshops as well as opening and closing night parties.

The films touch upon politics (“Knock Down The House,” “Mike Wallace is Here”) and our current immigration system (“The Infiltrators”) to environmental issues (“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch”) and religious beliefs (“Hail Satan?”) and more.
TO READ THE ARTICLE IN ITS ENTIRETY AS PUBLISHED IN THE APRIL 6 EDITION OF THE DAILY JOURNAL, GO TO
THE DAILY JOURNAL

“The Brink”-Director Alison Klayman’s gives insight to her new documentary

April 6th, 2019 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on ““The Brink”-Director Alison Klayman’s gives insight to her new documentary”

Never in recent memory has there been such a volatile time in politics than today and one man has added his own fuel to the fire—Steve Bannon. Director Alison Klayman has opened the doors into this man’s life with her new film “The Brink,” giving viewers a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes action and the inner workings of politics like never seen before.

TRAILER TO THE BRINK

Klayman, responsible for documentary works of art such as “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” and “The 100 Years Show,” recently spoke with me about her journey, both literally and figuratively, as she captured Bannon from all angles shedding light onto a subject previously existing in the shadows.

The concept of this film came from Marie Therese Guirgis with whom Klayman had collaborated for “The 100 Years Show.” Guirgis had worked closely with Bannon at Wellspring Media for three years and Klayman described that they had a good working relationship. She reported that the two had fallen out of touch “…until he burst on the scene of the Trump campaign…and she got back in touch with him, frankly to send him angry letters saying that she was really disappointed in him…”. These letters continued throughout Trump’s election and Bannon’s time in the White House, but the tipping point came after the Muslim Travel Ban and Guirgis “let him have it.” She shared, “ I witnessed the way she talks to him. She’s really not holding back.” But soon after, Guirgis realized that perhaps this candid relationship could be brought to a greater use which is was the spark for “The Brink.”

Approached by Guirgis to participate in this vérité style of film, Bannon initially declined, but eventually welcomed the proposal. Klayman, before accepting the director’s position, wanted to meet Bannon. Maria introduced the two, and before Bannon agreed, Guirgis “was in full form,” Klayman chuckled, worried that he wouldn’t agree under these circumstances. And this was just the beginning of peering through the Lookingglass, a term Klayman said that was used as an first working title of the film.

Klayman and Bannon traveled together around the country and the world for 13 months as she captured more than 100 hours of footage which were then distilled into the film we see today. While we see glimpses of Klayman’s personal viewpoint, the filmmaker expressed that she took great care in her editing process to create fairness in the film. “I felt like the strength of the movie would come from a fair treatment of the subject and the material. That didn’t mean that I came in as a neutral member of society. I think that would be a lie.” She continued, “This film has a filmmaker. Here are the clues to how the filmmaker sees this story.” She added, “ Documentary film is not just the facts ma’am kind of a thing, but I thought it needed to be fair in the sense that I was there to make a story out of what I actually found, not what I wanted to find or what I expected to find.” Klayman punctuated the fact that she was profoundly careful in her editing, saying, “If I found a person who was charming people and had charisma, I can’t cut that out. I can’t take a scene and edit it manipulatively, that will discredit the whole piece.”

Klayman had remarkable access to meetings, dinners, and casual moments with politicians and far right leaders from around the world. While she sometimes was limited in what she filmed, stating that she was occasionally “invited to leave,” indicating the private conversations were off limits for public knowledge, she was particularly proud of being able to film the meeting with global extremist leaders in London. She gave Bannon credit in calling him a “great advocate” as he would encourage others to be a part of the film.

In addition to the leaders, Klayman captured Bannon’s interviews with renowned and respected journalists, many who had heated conversations with Trump’s right hand man. In her down time, oftentimes waiting with the journalists for their time with Bannon, she explained her position to them as an independent filmmaker. Met with initial skepticism, which Klayman understood, most welcomed her filming and were excited to see the final product as journalists “don’t get the time or the space to write that kind of piece.”

The intimate and candid moments Klayman captured were not only eye-opening, but mind-boggling. From conversations with John Thornton, the former president of Goldman-Sachs to private meetings with Lena Epstein and John James, Congressional and Senate candidates in Michigan in 2018, Klayman was proud of the fact that these particular scenes “…raised a lot of questions I don’t have answers to.” However, she feels confident that the hypocrisy, false information, and “…the fact that a lot of Bannon’s messaging when it comes to helping people, the little guy, being revolutionary, with a different view of economics, that, to me, if anything, that shows that that’s false.” She deduced that he is not a threat to the super rich and that both he and Trump want the same thing. “I think that was really important to show.”

What is the ultimate goal of the film? Klayman hopes that the role of the media in upcoming elections is discussed; “…not whether to cover these people, but how.” She added, “As we have more elections coming up in the EU in 2020, it’s crucial to have a more thoughtful discussion…questions about who is funding these far right movements and how do we keep them honest about what they’re really fighting for and what they’re really doing. To me, those are the things that transcend and are still vitally important. And frankly, the cast of characters you see in the film are all also not going away…so who knows what’s going to come next.”

Bannon, as a courtesy, was shown the finished film prior to its premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. His response was guarded which Klayman interpreted as his way of waiting to see what the press thought of the film. “I think that’s what matters most to him.”

Education and knowledge are power and this powerful documentary, “The Brink, seen as a fly on the wall, allows you to ask and sometimes answer your own questions that will no doubt be relevant in the next news cycle, global election, and the 2020 campaign.

“The Public” shines a light on homelessness

April 3rd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Public” shines a light on homelessness”

Emilio Estevez is no stranger to the filmmaking world, but with his critically acclaimed film “The Way,” viewers began to see him and his talents in a new way. Now, Estevez writes, directs and stars in “The Public” surrounding himself with an all-star supporting cast including Christian Slater, Alec Baldwin, Taylor Schilling, Jeffrey Wright, and Michael Kenneth Williams, as he addresses the relevant topic of homelessness in our country.

Stuart is a librarian in Cincinnati, Ohio during a polar vortex. The homeless population has come to expect use of the library as shelter from the brutal winter conditions during the day, but as the cold begins to kill at night, Stuart takes action at the suggestion of a homeless man, Jackson (Williams), to keep the library open at night. Timing couldn’t be better as a local political race ensues, pitting a slick litigator against a media savvy preacher. Add to the mix a ratings-needy news anchor who tries to find the best angle to cover the event, and everyone’s world is impacted.

Stuart is a quiet man, living a quiet life until he meets Angela (Schilling), his building superintendent. We see a sweet charm about Stuart as we see the sparks begin to fly, but there’s also a certain calmness about him as he interacts with the homeless men and women awaiting the library doors to open. Compassion and respect are always at the forefront, endearing us more to this character, but when his job security is threatened, he finds himself at a crossroads and he plunges down a path with unknown consequences, tossing the balls of politics, ethics, and government in the air.

Finding humor in a film about homelessness seems impossible, but writer and director Emilio Estevez balances this like a professional tightrope walker; knowing that if he sways too far in one direction, he and the film will fall. He remains focused and steady as the story unfolds. The reality of the dramatic elements of how the homeless become that way and how they survive is heavy, yet not crushing. There’s also a comedically charming aspect of his new love interest and downright hilarious situations that occur on an every day basis at the library. “Sitting around reading books” is not what happens here!

While the main topic of the film is homelessness, there are many other subplots that develop throughout the film such as addiction as Detective Bill Ramstead (Baldwin) searches for his missing son, a drug addict. He’s torn as an officer of the law and a father whose never-ending love to help his son becomes his priority in life. Slater creates a slimy and very unlikeable, but intelligent lawyer/politician whose narcissism and ego steer his every move. Estevez creates a multilayered story and doesn’t forget to include how media impacts and influences our perception of events, all with a splash of humor and maybe even a little sweet revenge.

Estevez, wearing the three hats of writer, director, and star, could be a daunting task, but he easily and skillfully delivers on all three fronts. His portrayal of Stuart draws you to him as you know his backstory is an interesting one and you yearn to know more. There’s a sadness in his eyes and his body language exudes a heavy load that he has carried punctuated by the compassionate utterances as he interacts with everyone, no matter their position. It’s one of his best performances.

The film has so many stars, many of whom take their smaller, supporting roles and make them shine, helping to create a meaningful and thoughtful story. Slater comfortably creates his despicable role and Wright is kind yet conflicted as the head librarian who must make difficult and contrary decisions. Williams is extraordinary in his performance as a homeless man with his finger on the pulse of his community. His portrayal brings humanity to his situation and changes how you perceive the next man, woman, or child you see on the street.

“The Public” creates an engaging and entertaining film as it highlights very real social issues that plague our society today. With thoughtful dialogue and character development, no matter how small, we can walk in another’s shoes for a few miles. Shouldn’t every film to that?

3 1/2 Stars

“The View From Tall” a modern day ‘Scarlet Letter’

April 2nd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The View From Tall” a modern day ‘Scarlet Letter’”

Co-directors Caitlin Parrish and Erica Weiss tell a complicated story of a 17 year-old high school senior whose life takes a different direction after having an affair with her teacher. Amanda Drinkall and Michael Patrick Thornton star in this poignant and impactful tale, particularly in the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp.

The opening scene creates an immediate sense of compassion for Justine (Drinkall) who is shunned not only by her parents and sister, but her classmates as well. From glaring stares in the hall to physical intimidation in the classroom, Justine seems to be the victim of intense bullying. As the story begins to take shape through her sessions with a mandatory therapist, Douglas (Thornton), we begin to understand what has happened to this young woman. The punishment she receives from her family, friends, and community for being a victim, although initially she is unaccepting of this title, is beyond comprehension, yet the film demonstrates how easily this can and probably does occur. It is this exploration of sexuality and consent that is perfectly demonstrated in various situations that makes this story so insightful and extraordinary.

Justine’s breaking point severs her professional relationship with Douglas, but awkwardly we see a true friendship develop between the two as they both need a friend in their respective times of need. The writer has set up a delicate balancing act as we see Justine as a vulnerable yet wise teen and Douglas as an older man with high integrity. With this, we hold our breath, waiting for the next shoe to fall, the tension continually building, hoping we can breathe a sigh of relief.

Justine is heads and shoulders above her peers, physically and intellectually, although emotionally she is still a teen and responds like any other 17 year-old. Her relationship with her parents is strained to say the least, and we discover the harsh realities of both her parents’ reactions to her actions as well as other adults. And a sisterly friendship has gone devastatingly awry, as Paula (Carolyn Braver) deceives and denies Justine repeatedly. Justine’s intrinsic fortitude is imperative to her survival and most of us would have buckled under such pressure and scrutiny.

The storyline is reminiscent of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” as Justine is ostracized and ridiculed for her behavior. There are also assumptions about her character and therefore her rights as a human and a woman based on the fact that a teacher crossed a boundary. Justine is the guilty party in everyone’s eyes, not the teacher. We see everyone’s viewpoint regarding what happened and the humiliation and punishment Justine constantly receives. It’s heartbreaking, particularly as Justine looks back at the particular crossroad in her life, taking her down this life-changing road.

Drinkall and Thornton are extraordinary in these very complicated and deeply layered roles. Their genuine performances bring authenticity to not only their characters, but to the story itself. Both find nuanced subtleties to connect you to their characters and allow you to understand their thoughts and emotions. In fact, the entire cast is incredible and Braver shines as a typical teen, unable to handle her sister’s situation and the unrealistic expectations of her parents.

“The View from Tall” is a gripping story depicting sensitive topics told with deft skill. From underage drinking and eating disorders to bullying and rape, this film finds a way to gently tell a brutal story. And it’s not without humor, as Drinkall’s character is exceptionally bright and as she grows stronger, understanding her situation, she uses her razor sharp wit to cut those who deserve to receive it. Set in Chicago with an incredible musical score, this is a film to see.

Watch the film via FLIX PREMIERE or AMAZON

4 Stars

Grandmas get a new chance at love in new AARP web series

March 29th, 2019 Posted by Interviews, News 0 thoughts on “Grandmas get a new chance at love in new AARP web series”

Reality television finds a new twist with the digital series “Date My Grandma” now streaming on AARP’s YouTube channel. This adorable, positive and often-times funny reality dating show “celebrates love, family and companionship.”

The six episodes, now available to view, can be seen at datemygram.com.

I recently spoke with Vice President and Executive Producer of AARP Studios Jeffrey Eagle, who shared the behind-the-scenes stories and his hopes for this show and more to come. (Edited for space and clarity.)

Pamela Powell (PP): How did you come up with this concept?

Jeffrey Eagle (JE): We’re always trying to look at ways to celebrate people and their lives in whatever life transition they’re in, but a keen focus on 50-plus [population]. AARP, in trying to speak to its 38 million members in terms of what they’re interested in, have long talked about companionship, relationships, social isolation, and we just thought what an interesting way to tap into a topic like dating. As we talk multiculturally, but also multigenerationally, how fun would it be to involve grandchildren?
To read the interview in its entirety as published in the March 28, 2019 edition of The Daily Journal, go to THE DAILY JOURNAL

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

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