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

“Wale” Uses social perceptions to create intense and powerful thriller

January 10th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Wale” Uses social perceptions to create intense and powerful thriller”

First-time writer and director Barnaby Blackburn gives us “Wale, the story of a teen who made mistakes in is short life, paid for his crime, and is now on a better path as he attempts to start a business. Wale’s (Raphel Famotibe) first customer, O’Brian (Jamie Sives) will change Wale’s life forever.

Wale (Famotibe) appears to be a typical kid now, but his criminal record and time in juvenile lock up is a part that he wanted and was ready to put behind him. Living with his mother (Clare Perkins), we gain not only an understanding of his past, but also connect with this young man who wants nothing more than to make his mother proud and earn a living honestly. As he goes to the street market to advertise his skills as an auto mechanic, he bumps into O’Brian (Sives) who just happens to be in need of Wale’s services. Inviting the young man to his home, he treats him like a friend, and trusts him with his high-end car which has a “problem.”

In this short film, there is a constant feeling of impending doom even as Wale’s positivity attempts to shine through. His personality allows the viewer to forgive his transgressions and we root for him to succeed, but there is something off with O’Brian. The skilled writing creates this distrust in him, but we just can’t put our finger on what’s wrong until it’s too late. We discover the problem just as Wale does and gasp, never expecting to learn what we now know.

The story becomes a harrowing one, eliciting our own breathing to become shallow and our hearts to race as we put ourselves in Wale’s shoes. Each and every scene is an unexpected one, layering the tension to a point of explosion. These surprises don’t stop until the very end where Blackburn fades out.

“Wale” is one of the most riveting and intellectually stimulating short films this year. Creating viable circumstances while integrating social dynamics and stereotypes into the story generates plausibility. And Blackburn never allows you to see more than he wants you to, giving the film that incredible tension and stress.

Wale’s ensemble cast is comprised of two main characters who shine in their roles. Without giving too much away, Sives is extraordinary as we watch the subtlety of his performance and we discover his true self. Famotibe is equally skilled in his performance, portraying a young man with a second chance in life who is dealt a horrifying hand. His realistic reactions drive the story, never too much and never too little. It’s true perfection in a performance.

“Wale” is a short film that has the power of a feature, bringing to light societal prejudices while capturing an intriguing story. Blackburn’s writing and direction lay the firm foundation upon which his actors beautifully bring his words and tale to life. To think this is Blackburn’s first film is exciting as he has a grand future ahead of him.

4 Stars

“Odd Brodsky” An Uplifting & Quirky Comedy

January 9th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Odd Brodsky” An Uplifting & Quirky Comedy”

Discovering films made from the heart and filled with hope, humor, and even a positive message are far and few between, but Cindy Baer’s original film, “Odd Brodsky” is just that. As co-writer with her husband Matthew Irving, producer, and editor, Baer tells the tale of Audrey Brodsky (Tegan Ashton Cohan), a young woman living in L.A., stuck in a lucrative, but unfulfilling desk job, who decides to take a chance and chase her dreams of becoming an actress—a promise she made to her late mother as a teen.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: https://youtu.be/KHLKr_ztcSs

From the moment we meet the younger version of Audrey, played with natural skill by Ilana Klusky, there’s a whimsical, light air to the story with a vibrant flare of color and energy. The narrator takes us back in time to Audrey’s birth and her childhood years as she attempts every creative endeavor possible. With the encouragement (and tolerance) of her parents, Audrey gives it her all even when she’s viewed as a bit of an oddball by her peers. Fast forward to the current day, and Audrey still has hopes and dreams of acting, but her current day job has stifled her creativity. Longing for more, she quits her job and she plunges into the unknown head first. The creative waters are deep and as she flails around, comedically, she refines and redefines herself and her goals.

This is a good, old-fashioned comedy as we connect with this ever-hopeful young woman who refuses to give up. Interspersed with many comedic situations, Baer reminds us of what women encounter regarding looks and perceptions…sobering information, but alas, Baer always remembers that this is a comedy, first and foremost. Goofy situations arise, many thanks to her constantly high roommate, Spuds (Scotty Dickert), and we get to know her eclectic group of friends and watch a love story unfold unbeknownst to Audrey.

Cohan creates this lovable and quirky character of Audrey with sincere honesty. Her tone of voice matched with her affect beautifully pair with the rich and colorful costuming and set designs. There’s a feeling of balance in the tone of this film, never losing sight of the final message while colorfully entertaining your mind and your soul.

The ensemble cast gels together, particularly her best friends with whom she can share her every thought, relying on them all whenever she needs them or they need her…exactly what women do. To give this group even more interest and fun, Sammy (Baer), Kitty (Christina Moses), and Zoey (Elana Krausz) all have rather whacky attributes. And the sweetness of Camera One played by Matthew Kevin Anderson cannot be denied as we see him fall head over heals in love with Cohan’s character.

Baer’s off-beat and engaging writing is swept up by cinematographer Irving’s highly stylized eye as each character is allowed to shine in their roles. The set design is gorgeous, never feeling that this is a small and independent film. Together, with a great cast, “Odd Brodsky” works. It’s funny, charming, and positive…the perfect escape.

“Odd Brodsky” is a film for anyone who has felt out of place, aka odd, or has lost sight of who they are and where they want to be. (I believe that speaks to all of us!) It’s a story of determination, resiliency, and growing to understand oneself, making a few mistakes and learning and laughing along the way.

You can see this film on multiple digital platforms such as iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube.

3/4 Stars

CINEMAJAW’s Best Female Actresses of 2018

January 7th, 2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “CINEMAJAW’s Best Female Actresses of 2018”

Reviewed this episode: On the Basis of SexTrivia: Best Actress Movie Trivia
CinemaWAR: What is a better courtroom movie – The People v. Larry Flynt or A Few Good Men?
Sponsored by: Cards Against Humanity

Our wrap up of 2018 continues with our Top 5 Female Performances of the year. 2018 was one HELL of a year in film. Perhaps the very best in CinemaJaw history. This week we take a look at the women who gave film performances that helped make this past year what it is.

Joining us is a woman who loves to examine film from the feminine perspective. Pamela Powel has been on the film beat for nearly a decade. With shows on radio, television and the internet, she is a true voice in film criticism. We are proud to call her a friend of the show!

To listen to the podcast, go to http://cinemajaw.com/wordpress/cinemajaw-404-pamela-powell-best-female-performances-of-2018/

“Welcome to Marwen” lacks heart

January 5th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Welcome to Marwen” lacks heart”

Complete review coming soon

“Bathtubs Over Broadway” a charmingly unusual story of life, laughter, and love

January 5th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Bathtubs Over Broadway” a charmingly unusual story of life, laughter, and love”

The title of this documentary, “Bathtubs Over Broadway,” is an unusual one and you’ll never guess what this film is about based solely on those three bolded words. Steve Young, the former long-time comedy writer for the David Letterman show, hardened by his years of writing bizarrely funny bits for Letterman, is obsessed with a collection that turned into a passion project and resulted in a new-found love of life and those around him. The collection? Industrial Musicals.

What? You don’t know what that means? Neither did I nor does most of the population, but director and co-writer Dava Whisenant takes us along Young’s journey as he discovers long-lost records recorded by prominent companies in the ’60’s and ’70’s of sales and motivational productions. These productions, many of which were starting points for now well-known musical artists like Bob Fosse, dwarfed the budgets of Broadway musicals in an attempt to help corporations up their bottom line. Watch the trailer here: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6029778/videoplayer/vi1731574297?ref_=tt_ov_vi

Young scours the country, finding just a few like-minded individuals who know about this subject and begins to collect everything he can get his hands on. It isn’t until he delves more deeply into the people behind the productions that he discovers the meaningful relationships and the talent that evolved from these productions.

Whisenant provides us an opportunity to watch Young’s entire demeanor and even, perhaps, his purpose in life evolve as he befriends and gives affirmation to this long-lost art and artists. Filled with charming interviews along this journey with well-known actors like Martin Short who made ends meet by acting in these shows, entertaining video clips of productions about being a better sales person and manager, and his discovery of Sid Siegel in Buffalo Grove, IL who produced “The Bathrooms Are Coming,” the story comes together as Young gives credit to this unique art form by way of acknowledgment, understanding and appreciation.

“Bathtubs Over Broadway” is nothing that you expect and will be everything that you love. It’s narrative storyline initially points in one direction, only to take a beautiful and heartfelt turn that will leave you in awe and appreciation for Young and all those he has rediscovered. You’ll be swept away by the toe-tapping numbers, laughing along the way, while wiping away a few tears as you, too, have connected with these artists. Industrial Musicals and the talent associated with them may be a part of the past, but thanks to Young, it’s not lost. Thank you, Steve Young.

For more information about this film, go to https://www.bathtubsoverbroadway.com/

3 1/2 Stars out of 4

“Funny Tweets” shines new light on the power of Twitter

January 5th, 2019 Posted by Review, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on ““Funny Tweets” shines new light on the power of Twitter”

Laurie McGuinness creates an undeniably funny yet somehow thoughtful documentary film depicting one of the many powerful uses of Twitter.   This social networking platform isn’t just to learn about how our country is being run or the next viral meme.  McGuinness  takes a different approach to this global communication device as he features Dan Duvall, a seemingly ordinary guy from a typical town in British Columbia who, via his comedic tweets, accesses and lands job opportunities with major studios and shows in L.A.  

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: https://youtu.be/HWWyGiaxIZ0

McGuinness interviews several comedy writers who connected with Duvall via Twitter and follows the thread that stitched them all together.  We gain an understanding of the community networking and importance of how Twitter levels the playing field and opens the doors of opportunity that were once not only closed, but seemingly locked with a single gatekeeper.  While the story revolves around Duvall and how he managed his persona on Twitter over the years to find success, the candid interviews with established writers such as Matt Selman, Executive Producer an writer for “The Simpsons, Andy Richter, Announcer for “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” and Damien Fahey, writer for “Family Guy” give insight and maybe even hope to anyone from anywhere that if you’ve got the talent, you’ve got a chance.

“Funny Tweets” is truly laugh out loud funny as McGuinness generously sprinkles the story with hilarious tweets written by not only well-known comedy writers, but everyday people like this one from Elle Emmenopee (@ElleOhHell) about air travel. “Please remain seated until we’ve reached the gate, then feel free to stand hunched over weirdly sideways for 15 minutes while we do whatever.”  We also see how Twitter, with all its pros and cons, has been the subject matter of many shows, including “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons” as McGuinness expertly splices in excerpts from these shows.  We even get a glimpse into why certain tweets are funny and the origins of comic style dating back to, believe it or not, Winston Churchill.

Most of us don’t think twice about our accounts on Twitter as we browse through various tweets every day (or every 5 minutes), but perhaps, thanks to the insight of this film, we can see Twitter as a positive tool to help build our businesses, our dreams, or attain a previously out-of-reach goal.  While social media platforms can seem overwhelming and unnecessary, “Funny Tweets” gives Twitter a different spin; one of positivity and acceptance of this digital world.

“Funny Tweets” is available to stream on-line via iTunes http://bit.ly/FunnyTweetsFilm

3.5/4 STARS

“Mary Queen of Scots” Powerful women, powerful story

January 5th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Mary Queen of Scots” Powerful women, powerful story”

Margot Robbie has no fear of playing characters with an ugly heart, and her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I in her newest film “Mary Queen of Scots” is a prime example.

The story, based on the book “Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart” by John Guy, adapted by Beau Willimon and directed by Josie Rourke, breathes life and understanding into an era of two women vying for the British throne. This previously inanimate time in history, forgotten or never known to most of us, comes alive with vibrant and rich characters and a story that is simply spellbinding.

You don’t have to be a fan of history or British history to love this film. You do, however, have to be a fan of a great story, and “Mary Queen of Scots” is a powerful one. We meet young Mary (Saoirse Ronan), recently widowed and returning from France in search of her home and homeland. She is the rightful heir to the British crown, but that seat is currently occupied by her barren, insecure and lonely cousin, the daughter of King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I (Robbie).

To read the review in its entirety, go to https://www.daily-journal.com/life/entertainment/reel-talk-mary-queen-of-scots/article_f8b74d70-0d17-11e9-a308-07c077b43048.html

Best Documentaries of 2018

January 1st, 2019 Posted by News, Review 0 thoughts on “Best Documentaries of 2018”

I cannot recall a more emotional, educational, and enlightening year in documentary filmmaking. 2018 may forever be remembered as the best in this genre as it tackled important political, global, social and even strange topics, allowing us to walk in another’s shoes, creating empathy and understanding, and most importantly, broadening our horizons as we see the world through a wider lens.

10. MINDING THE GAP by Bing Liu depicts three young men who bond and support one another via skateboarding. Their stories diverge as they grow, highlighting their environment and family background as they find resiliency to rise above.

9. FREE SOLO might be one of the most nerve-racking documentaries I’ve seen as I watched a young man, Alex Honnold, “train” to climb the face of El Capitan in Yosemite without any safety ropes. Stunning cinematography punctuate this death-defying endeavor with an unusual backstory. To describe it as gripping is both a pun and an understatement! Directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. E

8. ON HER SHOULDERS tells the inspiring story of Nadia Murad who defied the social and gender confines of her culture and enlightened the world. With her efforts, this young woman, sometimes reluctantly-so is changing our understanding of ISIS, equality, and humanity. Directed by Alexandria Bombach.

7. PICK OF THE LITTER gives us insight into what it takes to become a guide dog for the blind. The dynamic filmmaking duo, Dana Nachman and Don Hardy, partner up again to tug on our heartstrings and keep us on the edge of our seats as we watch and root for these puppies who vie for giving a human the much-needed independence. It’s a captivatingly beautiful story that connects you with these pups, their training families, and with those who need their services.

6. SCIENCE FAIR gives us hope in our future leaders as filmmakers Cristina Constantini and Darren Foster follow nine young high school students as they attempt to be “Best in Fair.” This age is a complicated one, but compounding the typical emotional ups and downs is the heavy burden to prove you’re the most intelligent. “Science Fair” is a riveting story with humor as these kids race to the finish line.

5. DIVIDE AND CONQUER: THE STORY OF ROGER AILES will awaken your senses as you begin to understand who the founder of Fox News was. The filmmaker, Alexis Bloom, creates a compelling story using found footage, childhood photos, and interviews from those who knew him best. As the story progresses, we see his true colors, changing the course of history for individuals as well as the United States.

4. WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR is one of the most timely and heartwarming documentaries of the year as it depicts Fred Rogers’ life. Whether or not you were a fan of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” as a child, this film will inspire you and remind you of what’s truly important in life as you see this man’s life-long endeavor to help children in a volatile world. Have tissues handy! Directed by Morgan Neville

3. THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS begins as a sweet and coincidental story that takes heart-wrenching and unbelievable turns, creating an incredibly bizarre and disturbing story. Triplets, separated “at birth,” are reunited, but the circumstances under which these babies were taken is the core of the story. Reminiscent of human experimentation, it’s an inconceivable unfolding of events with dire consequences. Directed by Tim Wardle

2. LOVE, GILDA is first-time feature filmmaker Lisa D’Apolito’s uplifting and comedic project showcasing the life of Gilda Radner. While the young comic’s life was cut short by cancer, D’Apolito brings her back to life with found footage of Radner’s childhood, photographs, and readings from her journal. Radner’s unique voice is heard as we are reminded of the importance of love and laughter. Available on CNN Jan. 1

RBG, directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, finds its way into the number 1 position, depicting the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. This is nothing like what you might expect a film about a Justice to be as it is filled with wonderful humor, great sadness, compassion, and at its core, this is a love story. West and Cohen allow us into Ginsberg’s remarkable life creating a story about a true super hero who changed the world for women and equality. Her story is an important one to know and one which will inspire future generations of young women to stand up and be heard. After viewing “RBG,” be sure to see “On the Basis of Sex,” starring Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer and directed by Mimi Leder. To read my interview with Cohen and West for FF2 Media, go to https://ff2media.com/blog/2018/04/30/rbg-documents-extraordinary-life-of-ruth-bader-ginsburg/

TIED FOR 11th PLACE: With so many great docs, it was tough to stick to just 10, so here are a few more to put on your list to see: FUNNY TWEETS by Laurie McGuinness, SOCIAL ANIMALS by Jonathan Ignatius Green, FAHRENHEIT 11/9 by Michael Moore, and DARK MONEY by Kimberly Reed.

“Social Animals” An Instagram story

December 27th, 2018 Posted by Review, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on ““Social Animals” An Instagram story”

Instagram.  If you’re over 30, and I am, it’s an anomaly.  As a teenager in the 1970’s, popularity was assessed based on the number of carnations you received on Valentine’s Day during classes.  Now, it’s the number of public “likes” that can truly make or break you in high school.  Director Jonathan Ignatius Green followed three teens; an aspiring photographer in New York City, a Midwestern girl from Central Ohio, and a wealthy entrepreneur near Malibu, California.  The three are very different teens, but they all experience the emotional costs, both positive and negative of the impact of the social media platform of Instagram.

Green introduces us to Humza, a kid from the inner city of N.Y.  who develops an eye for photographs taken from forbidden vantage points.  Humza’s popularity blows up, but just at the peak of his popularity, he is vilified for revealing a subculture within the city.  Green interviews Humza before, during, and after his Instagram “success,” giving the viewers a keen insight to Humza’s rather mature and very candid expression of social media consequences.

Interwoven into Humza’s story, Green expertly incorporates Kaylyn’s unusual panache for engaging viewers with her style and look which eventually leads to greater opportunities.  Although, fame does have its drawbacks for her and her family, we are privy to the emotions at the time.  Matching Humza and Kaylyn’s story arc, we see that Green couldn’t have chosen a better representation for middle America than a small town near Cincinnati, Ohio with Emma who pays an ever greater emotional price as a negative spin is thrust upon her perceived persona.  

The pressure these kids feel is obvious, determining, in many instances, whether a teen has a sense of self-worth.  In fact, as the film reveals, purchasing “likes” and “followers” is also a technique used to increase their reputation as someone worthy of knowing.  As crazy as this might sound to someone outside of the Instagram realm, it’s a heady and real situation for kids, not to mention emotionally and financially costly.

Green tells each of these teens’ stories from beginning to end, allowing the viewer to walk in their shoes.  His ability to ask the right questions and create a trusting atmosphere for each subject to feel comfortable gives the film integrity and honesty.  These elements connect us to Humza, Kaylyn, and Emma as we watch them rise and fall and then hopefully find the strength to rise again.  Following these “kids” as well as having interviews with parents and other kids over the course of two years, Green allows you, the viewer, to arrive at your own conclusions about the impact of social media as he always takes the position of neutral observer, allowing the story to unfold naturally and honestly.

Initially, my hopes for the film were to be in some way to denounce social media platforms, justifying my inabilities to somehow master the medium, but Green doesn’t place a judgment upon it.   “Social Animals” expertly weaves together a compelling narrative, but more importantly, it allows everyone, no matter their age, to better comprehend the social pressures of today’s youth in a digital era.  It also serves as an avenue for teens to relate and perhaps even find comfort in knowing that they are all in the same boat.  

 

While I long for the days where it was only one day of a popularity contest and hoping that I wouldn’t get any green carnations (indicating “You bug me”), times have changed and “Social Animals” creatively communicates these changes.  Every parent, teacher, social worker and counselor would benefit from seeing this film.  While I no longer have teens at home, the film did allow me to let go of the pressure I feel as I attempt to “master” using Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.  Don’t even get me started on SnapChat!

For more information about the film and director, go to  https://www.socialanimalsfilm.com/home

and  http://www.ignatiusgreen.com/social-animals/

You can see “Social Animals” on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/social-animals/id1438474795?mt=6&ign-mpt=uo%3D4    or on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Social-Animals-Kaylyn-Slevin/dp/B07K1L5VF3/ref=sr_1_3?s=instant-video&ie=UTF8&qid=1544750364&sr=1-3&keywords=social+animals

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK: An interview with Barry Jenkins

December 25th, 2018 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK: An interview with Barry Jenkins”

Barry Jenkins, Academy Award-winning director of the Best Picture Award in 2016 for “Moonlight,” is back in the writer’s and director’s chairs to give us a screen adaptation of James Baldwin’s book, “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

The film depicts Tish and Fonny, two young black people in love, “soul mates” as Jenkins describes them, who experience heartache when Fonny is falsely accused of rape.

It’s a gorgeous portrayal of first love and family, as well as a brutally realistic representation of racial perception and the injustices of the judicial system, all seen through the lens of a young woman.

The film opens Christmas Day, starring Stephan James as Fonny and Chicago’s very own KiKi Layne as Tish. Film critic Chuck Koplinski and I had the pleasure of sitting down with this soft-spoken and engaging writer and director to learn more about the making of this evocatively relevant and poignant film.

To read the review in its entirety, go to https://www.daily-journal.com/life/entertainment/q-a-with-filmmaker-barry-jenkins/article_a7536e8a-02e2-11e9-9fc8-73cca268e4c1.html

The Best of 2018

December 24th, 2018 Posted by News, Review 0 thoughts on “The Best of 2018”

This year, from my vantage point, has provided some of the most inspiring and poignant films in recent memory.  From documentaries punctuating the fact that truth is many times stranger than fiction and stories that give us hope to narrative features integrating politics, the environment, religion and accentuating the need for identity, it’s been a remarkable year.  

As I began to compile my “best of” list, I had more than 30 films so I created 2 categories:  Best Feature Film and Best Documentaries.  It seemed only fair.  But even separating them into categories didn’t help as much as I had wanted.  Many of my choices which didn’t make it, toggled back and forth between the top ten slots and as my film critic partner Chuck Koplinski says, “Tied for 11th place.”  The “winners” who made it into my top 10 were the films that in addition to being a great story told well (as Robert Redford always says), these are films which moved me the most and still evoke an emotional response even after viewing it more than once.  All of my “tied for 11th place” choices are great movies with amazing performances and outstanding cinematography, but the final decision weighed upon the lasting effects of the film.

BEST FEATURE FILMS

10.  WHAT THEY HAD: Elizabeth Chomko’s writing and directorial debut depicts a family’s struggle with “doing what’s best” or Ruth (Blythe Danner) whose dementia is worsening.  Hilary Swank and Michael Shannon create a realistic sibling relationship as they attempt and frequently fail at agreeing on Mom’s care and Robert Forster gives us a remarkably memorable performance as Ruth’s husband.

9.  PUZZLE: Polly Mann and Oren Moverman recreate the Argentinian story of Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) whose insulated life as a mother and wife is awakened as she discovers a world outside of her own.  Mark Turtletaub directs this deeply layered story with religious elements and parallels that pushes the boundaries of storytelling.

8.  CAPERNAUM:  Taking place in Lebanon, a streetwise kid is suing his parents for neglect.  The film takes us on his harrowing journey that landed him behind bars and in the situation at hand.  Nadine Labaki directs young Zain Al Rafeea who gives a soulful performance that haunts you long after the credits roll.   

7.  ROMA:  Alfonso Cuaron pays homage to the strong women in his life, his mother, grandmother, and a live-in servant, in this sometimes surreal and always poignant memoir.  Cuaron finds a way to reinvent filmmaking with “Roma” as he finds and showcases the extraordinary talents of newcomer Yalitza Aparicio.

6.  THE GUILTY:  Gustov Moller writes and directs this one-man show taking place in a single room, but thanks to succinct and descriptive writing, your mind takes you to several location as you insert the various characters into the film.  Jakob Cedergren creates the role of Ashgar, a dispatch police officer who receives a call from a kidnapped woman.  His own baggage finds its way into the unfolding and incredibly tense story that has you on the edge of your seat, unable to predict the upcoming twists and turns.

5.  AMERICAN ANIMALS:  Unique storytelling techinques find their way into this film as Bart Layton recreates a Lexington, KY Transylvania University library heist.  Editing is key in this strange yet true story and Layton is a master as we watch these character spiral slowly downward.  Inserting interviews with the actual characters elevates the incredible story to make this one of the most entertaining and unusual films of the year.

4.  CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?:  The world seems to provide many strange stories for filmmakers to bring to the masses and Nicole Holefcener has found Lee Israel, a writer who’s hit rock bottom and finds she is quite talented in the art of forgery.  Marielle Heller directs Melissa McCarthy and Richard E. Grant as unlikely friends and business partners, each attempting to find meaning in their lives.  McCarthy is able to show us her dramatic talents in this complex and beautiful role while Grant uses his authenticity and style to give balance and provide levity and love in this heartfelt story.

3.  MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS:  Josie Rourke directs Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie who portray royal sisters, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I, respectively.  Rourke brings history to life as we gain insight and understanding to a story of greed, power, and love all effected by religion and gender.  Ronan and Robbie are extraordinary as we learn about the centuries-old story of sisterly rivalry.

2.  FIRST REFORMED:  Paul Schrader writes and directs Ethan Hawke as a pastor wrestling his inner demons and understanding of life, religion, politics, and the doomed environment.  It’s an exquisite and eloquent story of hope versus despair pushing your intellectual and emotional breaking point to its limits.  This is, by far, Hawke’s best performance.

  1.  WILDLIFE:  Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano write the screenplay while Dano takes the director’s chair to tell the story of a young teen watching and dealing with his parents’ failing marriage.  Ed Oxenbould gives an Oscar-worthy performance of a boy who must grow up and understand his circumstances at much too early of an age.  Carey Mulligan’s performance is equally complicated and extraordinary as the flawed wife and mother who must find independence.  As a viewer, it’s difficult to watch the life-altering decisions, yet the characters are so rich that you immediately understand their every thought.  “Wildlife” is a film to watch and dissect each and every scene, learning what drives the characters and how the subtle and nuanced performances convey these emotions.

Watch for an upcoming article for the Top 10 Documentaries of 2018!

MARY POPPINS RETURNS- magical fun for the entire family

December 21st, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “MARY POPPINS RETURNS- magical fun for the entire family”

Disney’s Academy Award-winning musical, “Mary Poppins,” starring Julie Andrews, Angela Landsbury and Dick Van Dyke, turns 54 this year and what better way to celebrate than by creating a new adventure based on this classic family film?

The magical nanny is back in “Mary Poppins Returns” with Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda stepping in to create an entirely new version of the story, while still maintaining the magic of the music, the dance and, most importantly, the story.

We meet the Banks’ family, who is comprised of two grown children, Michael (Ben Whishaw), and Jane (Emily Mortimer). While their parents have long gone, Michael, a widower, has two astute children who miss the comfort and guidance of their mom.

To read the review in its entirety as it appears in the Friday, December 21st edition of The Daily Journal go to https://www.daily-journal.com/life/entertainment/reel-talk-mary-poppins-returns/article_a868e358-02de-11e9-9ec9-bf8683523647.html

An Interview with Jennifer Karum

December 20th, 2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “An Interview with Jennifer Karum”

Autism is a word that in today’s schools and society we hear quite often. Our own hometown of Kankakee has, for years, supported Autism Speaks through the Kilbride Family Classic, now known as the Run for Autism.

And through supportive programs such as the Merchant Street Art Gallery of Artists with Autism, the public gets a chance to better appreciate the talents of a population that affects more than 3.5 million Americans, according to the Autism Society.

You might be wondering how autism and film are related as your local film critic is writing this story.

The answer is not only an easy one, but an inspiring one: Jennifer Karum. Through Chicago networking, Karum connected with me about a web series, “Conrad,” she created and recently premiered at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Through numerous conversations and a formal interview recently, Karum shared her thoughts about growing up and her current accomplishments. Here’s what she had to say.

To read the interview in its entirety, go to https://www.daily-journal.com/life/entertainment/q-a-with-conrad-s-jennifer-karum/article_83851c40-023a-11e9-974c-0fe795333f39.html

Netflix’s “Bird Box” serves as a powerful addition to the platform’s original films

December 18th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Netflix’s “Bird Box” serves as a powerful addition to the platform’s original films”

“Bird Box,” based on the novel by Josh Malerman, is written by Eric Heisserer and directed by Susanne Bier and stars Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes and John Malkovich.

While the film opens in theaters this weekend in New York and Los Angeles (think Oscar, here), this Netflix dystopian horror film then will become available to stream to your home via the digital platform on Dec. 21.

“Bird Box” delivers a powerful punch in the first scene as we see two young children blindfolded and being directed as to what’s expected of them. Your mind races, wondering if these children have been kidnapped as they are addressed as “Girl” and “Boy.” It’s gut-wrenching to watch these terrified-yet-precious little faces react to harshness from a woman, but then we are spiraled to five years earlier, and we find out how we got to this lowly place.

To read the review in its entirety as published in the Saturday, December 15th, 2018 edition of The Daily Journal, go to https://www.daily-journal.com/life/entertainment/netflix-s-bird-box-serves-as-a-powerful-addition-to/article_d21c1c30-ff03-11e8-820a-7f05225597d4.html

“Roma” creates intimate memory of love, paying homage to the women in Cuaron’s life

December 14th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Roma” creates intimate memory of love, paying homage to the women in Cuaron’s life”

“Roma,” the new Netflix film which opened in theaters in order to qualify for Oscar, will be available via the online streaming service beginning today. The film already has begun gathering awards and nominations from prestigious film critic organizations across the country, including the Chicago Film Critics Association.

This artistic masterpiece has found an unusual storytelling method to create an homage to the women in writer/director Alfonso Cuaron’s (“Gravity”) life as a child: his mother, his grandmother and his housekeeper.

“Roma” takes us back to Cuaron’s childhood in Mexico City during the 1970s to tell this very intimate memoir as we meet his family during a time of personal and political chaos.

During the course of one year, we watch, like a fly on the wall, Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and Antonio’s (Fernando Grediaga) marriage unravel, the children’s lives affected in various ways, but most importantly, the life of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) and how this impacts and creates unexpected bonds.

To read the review in its entirety as it was published in the December 14th, 2018 edition of The Daily Journal go to https://www.daily-journal.com/life/entertainment/reel-talk-dec/article_569ed176-fe2a-11e8-bd55-d3f8dc80f164.html

2018 Women Film Critic Circle Award Winners

December 12th, 2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “2018 Women Film Critic Circle Award Winners”

The 2018 Women Film Critic Circle Awards have been announced.  This organization,  comprised of 75 women film critics since 2004, gives greater voice to films by and pertaining to women.  Their unique categories highlight this aspect of filmmaking, but the “special mention” awards find an even deeper meaning to women in this industry. 

The biggest winner this year is “The Favourite” with three wins: Best Movie About Women, Best Actress (Olivia Colman), and Best Comedic Actress (Olivia Colman).  “Roma,” “Eighth Grade,” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” all gathered two awards each.  

 As a member of this organization, I’m proud to share this year’s WFCC Award winners:

BEST MOVIE ABOUT WOMEN

**The Favourite

Runner-up: Roma

BEST MOVIE BY A WOMAN

**Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Runner-up: Leave No Trace

BEST WOMAN STORYTELLER [Screenwriting Award]

**Audrey Wells: The Hate U Give 

Runner-up: Debra Granik: Leave No Trace

BEST ACTRESS

**Olivia Colman, The Favourite

Runner-up: Toni Collette, Hereditary

BEST ACTOR

**Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

Runner-up: Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

BEST COMEDIC ACTRESS

**Olivia Colman, The Favourite

Runner-up: Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

BEST YOUNG ACTRESS

**Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade

Runner-up: Thomasin McKenzie, Leave No Trace

BEST FOREIGN FILM BY OR ABOUT WOMEN

**Roma

Runner-up: Capernaum

BEST DOCUMENTARY BY OR ABOUT WOMEN

**RBG

Runner-Up: Shirkers

WOMEN’S WORK/BEST ENSEMBLE

**Widows

Runner-Up: The Favourite

SPECIAL MENTION AWARDS

COURAGE IN FILMMAKING

**Jennifer Fox, The Tale

Runner-Up: Haifaa Al-Mansour, Mary Shelley

COURAGE IN ACTING [Taking on unconventional roles that radically redefine the images of women on screen]

**Nicole Kidman: Destroyer

Runner-Up: Viola Davis: Widows

*ADRIENNE SHELLY AWARD: For a film that most passionately opposes violence against wom

**Say Her Name: The Life And Death Of Sandra Bland

*JOSEPHINE BAKER AWARD: For best expressing the woman of color experience in America

**If Beale Street Could Talk

*KAREN MORLEY AWARD: For best exemplifying a woman’s place in history or society, and a courageous search for identity

**Roma

*THE INVISIBLE WOMAN AWARD: [Performance by a woman whose exceptional impact on the film dramatically, socially or historically, has been ignored]

**Glenn Close, The Wife

ACTING AND ACTIVISM

**Viola Davis

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT

Ellen Burstyn

BEST KEPT SECRET AWARD

All The Overlooked ‘Gone Girls Of Cinema’ PIONEERS: FIRST WOMEN FILMMAKERSA Kino Lorber Collectors Edition Release.

BEST SCREEN COUPLE

**If Beale Street Could Talk

BEST FEMALE ACTION HEROES

**Black Panther

MOMMIE DEAREST WORST SCREEN MOM OF THE YEAR AWARD

**Jacki Weaver: Widows

BEST EQUALITY OF THE SEXES

**Black Panther

BEST ANIMATED FEMALES

**Incredibles 2

BEST FAMILY FILM

**Eighth Grade

HALL OF SHAME 

**Member Picks:

*Fifty Shades Freed: For perpetuating unrealistic and demeaning stereotypes of women, being defined by men emotionally and physically.

*Bryan Singer: Accused of committing crimes against young men, his continued status as a hirable, high-paid director is an affront to the women in the film industry who are struggling for recognition. 

*Les Moonves: Chairman and CEO of CBS, Moonves resigned in light of allegations that he sexually abused many women, and information on the culture of fear that he reigned over is now coming out.

Baby It’s Cold Outside. This traditional holiday season song has now been banned on radio stations following Me-Too protests, as promoting suggestive date rape lyrics. The debate that has followed is raising critical issues for discussion, but all agree that the male character, however culturally dated, is creepy. The Oscar winning song originated in the 1949 musicalNeptune’s Daughter, performed by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban.

“Care To Laugh” An Interview with Director Julie Getz

December 5th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on ““Care To Laugh” An Interview with Director Julie Getz”

(This article is from FF2 Media which is temporarily unavailable.)

“Care To Laugh” has been creating laughter through the love of caregiving across the country at film festivals as it gathers not just awards but the praise of everyone who sees it. As it continues to DOC NYC, the AARP Studios film is using this medium to tell personal stories that touch us all. In “Care to Laugh,” comic Jesus Trejo balances his life each and every day as he cares for his elderly parents and perfects his art as a comedian in Los Angeles. It’s a difficult balancing act, but it’s one that Trejo knows is helping his parents age gracefully, acknowledging that while a few sacrifices are made on the professional front, it’s only right to give back to his parents who sacrificed for him. Director Julie Getz partners with Executive Producer of AARP Studios Jeffrey Eagle to tell Trejo’s inspiring story filled with relatable humor and love.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Getz, Eagle, and Trejo recently in Chicago as the film also screened as the opening night film of the Chicago Comedy Film Festival. Their admiration for one another and their hopes for this film and more from AARP comes shining through with hope and positivity.

Pamela Powell (PP): Julie, I understand this is your first feature film that you’ve directed. Tell me about your background and working with AARP.

Julie Getz (JG): My experience in the TV and film business is that I was a documentary producer for about 16 years for outlets like Discovery Channel, National Geographic, PBS, a lot of the big Washington, D.C. outlets there About 2 years ago, I took a job at AARP studios with Jeffrey Eagle, we used to work together, back in the day, and I’m the Director of Development for AARP Studios. I focus on TV and film and podcasts. When we met him (Jesus) and we decided as a group that this was something we were going to pursue, Jeffrey entrusted me and the team to direct this film!

PP: With documentary filmmaking, I’m assuming you didn’t know how the story was going to turn out.

JG: What we knew when we first met Jesus is that he had an incredible story that we knew we wanted to share with the world and we knew we had some bits and pieces of information, right? It was decided that, let’s follow him. It just naturally unfolded as things came up in his life. As documentary filmmakers you want to be flies on the wall and we don’t want to intrude too much. You want to just let it happen and then just document his day to day activities and his relationship with his family. … It’s his story as his journey unfolds.

PP: What was one of the most surprising elements in filming this story?

JG: Just how incredible of a human being Jesus Trejo is and we felt so special and honored to be a part of this. Here he is juggling all these responsibilities and again, you see in the film, you can tell he’s got grit. He’s tenacious. He puts his foot on the accelerator and he doesn’t let up. He goes full throttle…for the love of his parents, for his career, and he knows that the stakes are high. Just to be a part of that and to tell his story in a way of how he did it, how it came across in the film …and then capturing those funny, light moments as well. I think we had that balance when we were putting all the pieces together, when you come back and look at all the footage, how do we tell this story, when to take a deep dive in, when to come out. I feel like how it all unfolded is the best way. … and hopefully it resonates with people.

PP: What do you hope people will take away from the film and what have you seen so far after screenings?

JG: With any project that I do, from a filmmaker’s perspective, is that I always want people to learn something, something they didn’t know before. … And for this film, that they walk away and learned something … and they know where to go, what to do. … AARP, they’ve got the resources, the caregiving guide, and again, the groups, so people don’t feel like they’re alone.

…After the films, we walk out of the theater, people are coming up to us, they’re sharing their stories of how they just recently lost their parents or how they were caregivers for their parents and they didn’t know that AARP was in the caregiving business or that we’re actively involved in caregiving. That’s just to us a huge opportunity, being out there, letting people know where to go, what to do that you’re not alone, giving people direction to find a support system. Again, the whole point of this film is for people to walk away and be inspired and be engaged. If you’re not a caregiver, you eventually will be one day or you will be taken care of. If you know someone right now, pick up the phone and call them and help them out.

Of course, at the conclusion of our interview, I began to share my own caregiving tales, relating to Trejo’s road trip as I crashed through a toll gate in Ohio only to look in the rear view mirror to see my mother who had dementia, laughing out loud at what happened. As Trejo said, this film and its topic is the “universal truth,” one which we all know and understand.

“Care to Laugh” will play at the DOC NYC Film Festival on Wednesday, Nov. 14 and Thursday, Nov. 15. For ticket information, go to DOCNYC

“Widows” gives a tried-and-true genre a new perspective

November 28th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Widows” gives a tried-and-true genre a new perspective”

Gillian Flynn of “Sharp Objects” and “Gone Girl” fame co-writes with director Steve McQueen the screen adaptation of “Widows” starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, and Liam Neeson. The thriller is set in our very own backyard of Chicago as four widows whose husbands’ criminal activities leave them in debt to the wrong people and must somehow pay it back.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

“Widows” is an elemental thriller, tapping into all the right spots to give us a high intensity caper filled with a couple unexpected twists along the way. What makes this story a little different is that we have women leading the way. This adds a component of not yet utilized complexity as it delves into relationships and how these women strategize. While they may not have the braun, they’ve got the courage, intelligence, and emotional strength that just may be stronger than any physical muscle, and it makes for a much more interesting story! Don’t worry, though. There’s plenty of action, a crash and explosion or two, and a bit of violence creating a perfect balance in this good old-fashioned heist film.

We meet Veronica and Harry (Neeson) as the happy couple, living a high-end life, loving one another. We quickly find that we are looking into the past and the current times are tragic for Veronica, Linda (Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), and Amanda (Carrie Coon) as their husbands have all died in a violent car chase as they attempted to evade police after stealing millions of dollars. Veronica, dealing with the loss of the love of her life, is soon visited by the man her husband was to give this money to…a debt she now owes. Presented with information by her driver if anything should happen to Harry, Veronica finds herself in a precarious position and the plans to her financial freedom in her hands.

Veronica, reaching out to the other women whom she has never met, leads them in planning an intricate heist. Alice, a victim of spousal abuse, has been bullied her entire life as we see from her mother’s (Jacki Weaver) interactions. Linda is the victim of a lying husband as we see her means of living taken away in a moment’s time thanks to back money owed to yet another criminal group of men. Belle (Erivo) lives in the projects with no hope of escape until she meets these women. They are an unlikely group and have all hit rock bottom which makes their decision to pull off this robbery easier. The story becomes an empowering one as we see these women gain confidence in themselves as well as trust and friendship in one another.

Davis, not surprisingly, is powerful in this role as leader, but it is her character’s vulnerability and past emotional turmoil that allows her to give her character greater depth. This could have easily been a flat and undeveloped role, but with Davis at the helm, she creates a character we care about and one with whom we can identify. Rodriguez is finally given a role that has more complexity to it than in the past, showing us that she is an engagingly capable actress. Debicki shines in her role as we witness her approaching a crossroads in her character’s life. And Erivo is a name that will soon become a household one with her genuine attributes rising to give her character meaning and life. She stood out in “Bad Times at the El Royale” and she is strikingly memorable in “Widows.” Additionally, the dialogue and interaction among the women is not at all far-fetched as you might expect in a film in this genre. There is a realistic connection that we immediately see in their interpersonal communication, from hesitancy and frustration to loyalty, these women embody the strength of what women are capable of in crisis.

The women couldn’t have created the remarkable characters without an extraordinary script by Flynn and McQueen and under McQueen’s capable direction. While we remember that it is a thriller filled with scenarios that are impossible, the actuality of some of the situations bring it closer to reality. This is created with politics and politics in Chicago do have a certain sordid reputation. The long-standing powerful family of the Mulligans give us exactly what is needed to make the story more credible. Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall) and his son Jack (Colin Farrell) are the perfect old school politicians, hungry for money and power as they battle newcomers Manning (Brian Tyree Henry) with his lacky and little brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya). Forget everything you loved about the sweet face of Kaluuya (“Get Out”) and be ready for a menacingly convincing performance from him.

“Widows” is an intense, complex, and exhilarating thriller that takes a chance with women as the lead. With remarkably strong performances, an incredible script, and deft direction, you begin to see that gender changes can make things more interesting…and sometimes even better.

Check out a few interviews I had with the stars at the Chicago International Film Festival!

Q&A with AARP Studios Vice President Jeffrey Eagle

November 24th, 2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Q&A with AARP Studios Vice President Jeffrey Eagle”

“Care to Laugh” is the first feature-length documentary film to come out of AARP Studios. While the studio has been in existence for the last decade, bringing topical information to 50-plus year olds, the creation of feature films for theatrical release is a relatively new endeavor.

Comedian Jesus Trejo stars in “Care to Laugh,” a documentary about the balancing act of caring for his aging parents and perfecting his craft as a comic. As the film travels to various festivals around the country, collecting awards and praise by all who see it, it’s obvious that the topic of caring for our loved ones as they age resonates with everyone, no matter their age.

I recently sat down with director Julie Getz, star and comedian Jesus Trejo, and vice president and executive producer of AARP Studios, Jeffrey Eagle, to discuss the film, now a part of NYC DOC. What I learned about the film, the studios and their endeavors was quite surprising and just might give you a new outlook on one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the U.S.

Go to THE DAILY JOURNAL to read the interview in its entirety.

“Care to Laugh” An Interview

November 23rd, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on ““Care to Laugh” An Interview”

“Care to Laugh,” a documentary from AARP Studios, addresses the issues behind caregiving while making us laugh. The laughter (and tears) are thanks to the comic genius and candor of the film’s subject, Jesus Trejo. The film recently screened as part of both the Chicago Comedy Film Festival and DOC NYC and while in Chicago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Trejo, director Julie Getz, and Vice President and Executive Producer of AARP Studios Jeffrey Eagle. Their excitement about the film and the future of sharing experiences relating to aging using film as the medium was infectious. Enjoy their insights and be sure to put this film on your list to see when it’s released in 2019.

Pamela Powell (PP): Jesus, what was your initial thought when you were approached about doing this documentary?

Jesus Trejo (JT): I was very flattered to know that they wanted to consider me to be the subject of a documentary film. I know they had done a project before with Don Rickles, but this was the first documentary feature length that AARP was doing. It came about because I met the awesome people at AARP, Jeffrey Eagle, Julie Getz and the crew … at an event that happened at the Hollywood Improv that AARP put on for caregivers and the headliner was Jim Breuer and I opened for that show. That’s when we got to know each other and they knew about my story. And then sometime later they wanted to have a similar event in NY and they reached out and I couldn’t do it. That was when I was at a fork in the road with comedy and caregiving and they found out more of the story and they thought this was a story worth telling.

PP: What was your parents’ reaction to doing this?

JT: It was definitely difficult for my parents. We definitely took some days before we got back to AARP because … explain to your immigrant parents that there are going to be cameras on us for a year. Wait. What? It’s hard to digest. Pretend like they’re not there. And my dad was like, ‘They are there. I can see them.’ … It was difficult for my parents. It was difficult for me. … It was difficult but fun.

PP: Jeffrey, I had no idea that AARP was making feature films.

Jeffrey Eagle (JE): AARP has had studios in the Washington, D.C. for about 10 years … We did this event at the Hollywood Improv back in December of 2016 and AARP, as you know, is the largest non-profit organization in America- 38 million members- [and] caregiving is a focus. … It’s often seen as an end of life story as opposed to just a life story… when we started digging into the research … caregivers want two things. They want time and they want to laugh. Time and laughter. So we thought why don’t we have something that gives caregivers time. Well, that would be a night out. And what could we do that would make them laugh? How about a comedy show? And oh, by the way, who’s telling the jokes? Wouldn’t it be great if the comics were caregivers? Jim Breuer’s a caregiver. Jesus is a caregiver. Caregiving has ups and downs. There’s intense love of family and love of craft and hard knocks of rejection and hard knocks of health. The film is able to be in those places and dip in and dip up and take the valleys and the peaks with laughter and light. And that’s what I think we’ve done. AARP studios, we are about making these big issues, fraud, and caregiving and health and financial matters, personal and that’s what we’ve done with this film. … We want to do more stories like this.

PP: Julie, what was most surprising to you, as a director, in making this film?

Julie Getz (JG): Just how incredible of a human being Jesus Trejo is … Here he is juggling all these responsibilities and again, you see in the film, you can tell he’s got grit. He’s tenacious. He puts his foot on the accelerator and he doesn’t let up. He goes full throttle. … capturing those moments that can often be hard and sad and challenging and then capturing those funny, light moments as well. I think we had that balance when we were putting all the pieces together…

PP: Jesus, what do you hope people will take away from this film?

JT: After seeing it a couple times, I’m reminded of this quote that Galileo said, “The only constant thing in life is change.” And seeing that that was a picture of a moment in time, things change and we just have to accept change. Change doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative or a positive thing. It’s just change. … And looking back I almost think of what was happening in that moment and it’s like oh man, that was heavy, but then it wasn’t half as heavy as what I dealt with last month or the previous month or now. It just puts things into perspective …

PP: We Baby Boomers are aging and taking care of their parents and our children will be in the same boat in the next 20 years. I see other studios also addressing the issue of aging as Elizabeth Chomko’s film did in “What They Had.”

JE: … Blythe Danner and Hilary Swank are on the cover of our magazine right now. … November is National Caregiving Month. … The power of film is limitless, as you know, because this is your world as much as it is ours, but I think it’s just the way people are engaging with media with stories. We’re visual story tellers. We’re trying to bring these issues to life [and] finding characters that feel real. … As I said, this wonderful, magical documentary came out of a simple question “What do caregivers want? Time and Laughter.

PP: Julie, what do you hope viewers gain from watching “Care to Laugh?”

JG: With any project that I do, from a filmmaker’s perspective, is that I always want people to learn something, something they didn’t know before…to be almost shocked. And for this film, that they walk away … they know where to go, what to do. And that’s why AARP, they’ve got the resources, the caregiving guide, and again, the groups so people don’t feel like they’re alone.

PP: Jesus, any other thoughts you’d like to share?

JT: Family’s first. Everything else will always be there. Family, you get one shot at it. Make sure they’re taken care of. Like comedy, comedy will always be there. I did and I’m doing the right thing. I’m helping them age gracefully.

PP: How are your parents doing now?

JT: They’re hanging in there. Some days are bettter than others, but over all I’m just happy to have a second chance with both of them. Things are going well.

Eagle shared statistics with me that are remarkable, reminding me that while I have had aging parents and continue to help my father-in-law as he ages, we aren’t alone in this boat. According to Eagle, there are 40 million unpaid family caregivers which probably affects you or someone you know. AARP, through the medium of film, helps us all relate and understand, but even more importantly, it’s a resource of information and support.

To learn more about this film, go to “Care to Laugh.”

Chuck and Pam review 4 films on WCIA’s Morning Show: CREED II, ROBIN HOOD, THE FRONT RUNNER, GREEN BOOK

November 23rd, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Chuck and Pam review 4 films on WCIA’s Morning Show: CREED II, ROBIN HOOD, THE FRONT RUNNER, GREEN BOOK”

With so many films being released, film critics Chuck Koplinski and Pamela Powell chose 4 films to review this week on WCIA’s Morning Show: “Creed II,” “Robin Hood,” “The Front Runner,” and “Green Book.” Warning: The gloves come off in one of these segments!

WCIA Segment 1

WCIA Morning Show

“Robin Hood” misses the mark

November 23rd, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Robin Hood” misses the mark”

The story of the thief who robbed from the rich to give to the poor, aka Robin Hood, has been around for centuries, literally. In film form, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland continued the legend in 1938, and since that date, there have been a myriad number of pastiches keeping the legend alive for kids and adults alike.

Even Ridley Scott jumped on the bandwagon with his version starring Russell Crowe as Robin Hood, but alas, this was not the last, as co-writers Ben Chandler and David James Kelly give director Otto Bathurst a chance to recreate the origins of the tale, starring Taron Egerton (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”) and Jamie Foxx (“Baby Driver”).

In the beginning of the film, the narrator advises us to forget history and all we thought we knew about the legend of Robin Hood. We need to understand it is a “… story of a thief, but not a thief that you know.”

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

The filmmakers behind “Patrimonio” at DOC NYC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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