“I Kill Giants” In theaters and VOD Friday, March 23

March 21st, 2018 Posted by Review, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on ““I Kill Giants” In theaters and VOD Friday, March 23”

The action graphic novel “I Kill Giants” by J.M. Ken Niimura comes to life on the big screen starring Madison Wolfe as Barbara, the slayer of giants. Barbara is an outcast in her school, exhibiting bizarre behaviors brought about by her tumultuous home life. The story creates a portrayal of a teen’s inner and symbolic demons as she attempts to control both, coping with her inevitable future. While the pace of the story is meandering and slow at times, the payoff is worth the wait with its emotionally beautiful ending.

Three siblings, seemingly fending for themselves, live in a beautiful home along the coast. Karen (Imogen Poots), the eldest, takes on the role of mother as she works and cares for her younger brother and sister. Barbara rebels against her siblings and takes herself into the world of monsters and giants. It is here that reality and imagination blend together as we question the difference between the two. Bringing her back to reality and grounding Barbara is her new and only friend, a new girl in town, Sophia (Sydney Wade).  Attempting to  understand Barbara while navigating the angst of middle school, Sophia’s kindness is pushed to the brink.  Barbara’s inner monsters must first be addressed before she can find a way to sort through her own reality.

Wolfe carries this film as she portrays a character who lashes out, wielding her words like a sword.  She is, on the surface, weird and  insensitive, yet in her mind she is there to save the town from certain demise from the Giants. This is Barbara’s story and we are submerged in her world, trying to understand what she is truly grappling with. It isn’t until the final 30 minutes of the film that there is that long-awaited crescendo connecting us to this little girl. The supporting cast is just that, supporting. The adults in the film are integral to Barbara’s character and emotional growth, but the adult characters are never really developed. The story unfolds from Barbara’s point of view, but it also accentuates the importance of a consistent and caring adult in a child’s life and the impact upon her resiliency.  The consistent adult in this story is the counselor, Mrs. Molle (Zoe Saldana).

“I Kill Giants” is gorgeously shot, melding together the world of reality and make believe in magical ways. For those who have not read the graphic novel, it comes as no surprise  that this would be the inspiration, given the intensity and vivid images. Barbara’s imagination is brought into full focus, allowing the viewer to be a part of her fears and powers or lack thereof. In many ways, this film is reminiscent of J.A. Bayona’s “A Monster Calls” as it tackles adult issues thrust upon a child and the use of imagination as a coping mechanism.

“I Kill Giants” is a vibrant and bold depiction of a young teen’s imagination as she grapples with toxic stress. The film reminds us that knocking down the walls to truly understand a child who seems a bit odd is worth the time and patience.

3/4 Stars

“Women Represent at the SXSW Film Festival”

March 16th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on ““Women Represent at the SXSW Film Festival””

The SXSW Film Festival, now a quarter century old, will run from March 9-17 in Austin Texas.  The premier festival showcases festival favorites from Sundance, world premieres from around the country, and Texas shorts and Texas high school shorts.  The line up is always amazing and the distractions include an array of music events, comedy headliners, and of course, barbecue!  

As I perused this year’s SXSW Film Festival line up, I had an immediate rush of hope.  Hope that this festival could feasibly be the best in representing women!  The first category was “Narrative Features” listed in alphabetical order.  The first one, “Family” is written and directed by Laura Steinel.  The second, “First Match,” was written and directed by Olivia Newman.  I began to sit more erectly in the chair in front of my computer, scrolling a little more quickly as I read through the entire list.  Number 3, 4, and 5 on the list were also projects of female filmmakers!  In fact, 80% of the Narrative Feature films at this year’s SXSW Film Festival are by women!  

To read the article in its entirety, go to Fete Lifestyle Magazine

An Interview with Yeardley Smith at SXSW

March 14th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on “An Interview with Yeardley Smith at SXSW”

Yeardley Smith is a woman of many talents, one of them is possessing the most recognizable voice in television history—the voice of Lisa Simpson.  Actress, podcaster, author, and producer also fill her lengthy list of accomplishments, but this talented woman whose success came quickly and early in life, hit a few road blocks along the way.  Smith took time away from her schedule (and noshing on delectable barbecue) in Austin where her film “All Square” premiered to talk about her career path, words of advice, and the future of women in Hollywood.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

PP:  What advice would you give your younger self?

YS:  Do not attach your value to your accomplishments…I didn’t realize I was doing it until I was 20 years into my career, that I had tied my identity and my value to  external things.  And of course you can’t fill up the inside from the outside.

PP:  And you do a one woman live stage show?

YS:  I did.  Do is the wrong tense.  Did.  I’ll never do it again.  Around that time that I thought, ok I better pull up my socks and do it myself.  Sadly, the NYT reviewed it like your mother would write.  Pretty much everyone else disliked it.  I think it was terribly misunderstood where people thought, you have everything.  I don’t know why I should feel sorry for you.  And I was like, Oh my God, you’ve missed the point!  That’s what I’m telling you, I have everything and how come it didn’t work.  How come all of that material wealth and all of these opportunities didn’t make me feel like whatever I felt was broken inside of me is now fixed.  The audiences really loved it, but because it was not well reviewed, we couldn’t fill the houses and it closed. 

The audio interview in its entirety here


Female directors featured at CEUFF down from last year

March 12th, 2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Female directors featured at CEUFF down from last year”

Hosted by the Gene Siskel Film Center, the month-long Chicago European Union Film Festival (CEUFF) will feature 9 films directed by women (9 out of 61 = ~ 14.8 percent, down from last year’s record high of 25 percent). The festival is celebrating its 21st year year, beginning March 9 through April 5.

Dramatic narratives are the stories women are telling most at this festival, ranging from period pieces such as Barbara Albert’s moralistic and psychological period film Mademoiselle Paradis to Elina Psykou’s powerful current-day tale of Oedipus.  Tonie Marshall puts the spotlight on games women (have to) play when trying to compete and win in the corporate boardroom in the French film Number One, and Marleen Jonkman’s Messi and Maud captures the societal pressures of motherhood and the freedom of a road trip through Chile.

To read the article in its entirety, go to:

FF2 Media Female directors featured at CEUFF down from last year

“Son of Sofia” A hauntingly powerful story portraying a current day Oedipal conflict

March 12th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Son of Sofia” A hauntingly powerful story portraying a current day Oedipal conflict”

“Son of Sophia” had its world premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival and is now a powerful part of the annual Chicago European Union Film Festival.  Written and directed by Elina Psykou and staring Victor Khomut as a young boy, wrestling with issues of betrayal, abandonment, and love as he leaves childhood behind.  This thought-provoking and psychologically deep film about a mother and her son creates an intriguingly insightful look at growing up in less than ideal circumstances.

Misha (Khomut), a quiet and reserved 11 year-old travels on his own from Russia to Athens to live with his mother, Sofia (Valery Tscheplanowa).  The two have been separated for years and their reunion shows the unfamiliarity but obligatory connection.  The living situation is just one of the many surprises for Misha as he learns that he and his mother will be living with an older gentleman, Mr. Nikos (Thanassis Papageorgiou).  This man, he will discover, is also his new stepfather.  It’s evident that Misha still needs his mother and isn’t ready for this new “father” in his life.  He is still a young boy at heart as we see him clinging to the comfort of fairy tales. Jarringly, he is then abruptly pulled into the world of an older boy with no parental influence.  The struggle is palpable as Misha grows up in this foreign land, not understanding the language and thrust into a surprising situation which push the envelope of emotional capabilities of any child.

“Son of Sophia” is a complexly layered story, delving into not just the growing pains of young Misha, but of the conflicting loyalty that Sofia now has.  She’s torn between the love of her son and the needs of her new husband as well as her financial dependency upon him. She is treated as less than a person, demands placed upon her, and commanding her son to do the same. This heartbreaking and internal  struggle is beautifully portrayed, demonstrating what many wives and mothers deal with on a daily basis.

“Son of Sofia” develops another story within the film as we see another viewpoint; that of Misha.  He longed to be only with his mother and finds Mr. Nikos to be a competitor.  It’s a classic representation of a boy with an Oedipus Complex, attempting to do away with his competition.  Misha’s new-found friend, Victor (Aremois Havalits) couldn’t be any worse of an influence, but with no parental involvement, Misha delves into inappropriate situations.  His ability to understand right from wrong seems to become less clear as do his skills in coping with losing his childhood.

Khomut is the lead actor, supporting the film completely with his nuanced performance.   Balancing on the edge of childhood’s imagination and the dark world of adults is intellectually difficult, but Khomut finds a way to do exactly this.  Tscheplanowa gives us a beautifully dramatic performance, creating a conflicted and apprehensive character.  She brings us a character who is not only real, but believable.  The interaction between the two is familiar and relatable while the cinematography gorgeously captures each and every mood and feeling.  The story-line does become disturbing, but it is required to do so in order to expertly bring the Oedipal Complex to its bitter-sweet conclusion.

“Son of Sofia” is remarkably haunting and dramatic as it captures the love between a mother and her son and his need to grow up.  Its complexities are revealed through deft direction and writing, allowing the cast to shine.

“All Square” A dark comedy at SXSW gives Michael Kelly a chance to shine in new ways

March 10th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““All Square” A dark comedy at SXSW gives Michael Kelly a chance to shine in new ways”

Remember when films took you away to a not so different place, yet one that let you escape your own life?  Movies that were filled with interesting characters, perhaps one that you could even identify with?  Or somehow, that imperfect character who was the focal point of the story allowed you to root for him even with all his flaws?  “All Square,” which premiered at the SXSW film festival, is just that movie.  It’s good old-fashioned storytelling complete with characters we love, identify with, and hope beyond hope that they make it across home plate.

Michael Kelly stars in “All Square,” the story of a small-town bookie, following in his not-so-successful father’s footsteps, after failing to be the town’s baseball prodigy oh-so-many years ago.  John (Kelly) is constantly behind the eight ball, attempting to collect on debts, having a heart when he shouldn’t and trying to be tough in all the wrong ways.  Caring for his elderly father, paying medical bills and for cigarettes (oh, the irony) John attempts to up the ante and score it big…in a youth baseball league gambling ring he has devised.  After a one-night stand with Debbie (Pamela Adion), a former flame, John connects with her son Brian, a pitcher with perhaps some skills yet to be mined.  John’s foresight is a bit lacking and his actions not getting any votes for stand in father of the year, his plan spirals out of control, with the fallout unpredictable—at least to John.

Kelly’s role as John, the lovable loser who never seems to learn a lesson, is certainly a departure from his typical roles as Doug Stamper in “House of Cards,” or numerous law enforcement agents.  He seems to comfortably slip into this role as blue collar worker with a heart as well his Carharts.  His comedic timing in this dark comedy allows him to show a different and very entertaining side of his skills which I hope we will see more of in the future. 

Partnering with a child actor who must have the skills to  lead Kelly’s character to develop is a tough act to find, but Sheps is a natural.  The love and antagonistic relationship the two develop give such depth to not only their characters, but to the overall story.  Sheps portrays “Brian” with touch of maturity while still maintaining his youthful innocence that John could only dream to have had at such a young age.  And Sheps never takes this role over-the-top as some films and actors might have done.  He always finds that level of reality to bring to the character, allowing the audience to somehow find compassion for both main characters.

The cast is exceptional as is the writing and succinct and deft direction by John Hyams. The storyline of “All Square” has a touch of drama and suspense as well as comedy, albeit most of it either ironic or pitch black.  With writing and characters that connect with the viewer, the film is sure to be an audience pleaser as it comes full circle.  Filming in Dundalk, MD, the understated suburb of Baltimore, the town’s personality shines through to accentuate the story and its message.  Adion, Josh Lucas, Harris Yulin, and a cameo from Yeardley Smith (interview coming soon) round out the talented cast of characters to create a story that is as engaging as it is entertaining.

 “All Square” will screen again at the SXSW Film Festival on March 13 and 15.  For more information, go to SXSW FILM SCHEDULE

Watch for the upcoming interview with Yeardley Smith, Producer (voice of Lisa Simpson from “The Simpsons”)

“A Wrinkle in Time” is a powerful story of love, family

March 9th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““A Wrinkle in Time” is a powerful story of love, family”

Director Ava DuVernay’s newest endeavor, “A Wrinkle in Time,” takes a departure from her usual, heavy, historical-based topics — “Selma” followed the Montgomery, Ala., voting rights marches and “13th” covered the 13th amendment — and embarks on a magical journey filled with beauty, love and a young girl’s strength and courage.

This departure just might be what audiences are in need of given the darkness of world events that surround us.

DuVernay interprets author Madeleine L’Engle’s novel “A Wrinkle in Time,” staring the young Storm Reid as Meg, a precocious young girl whose parents are prolific astrophysicists, breaking boundaries and bending minds in new directions. She’s joined by a powerful supporting cast including Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling (“The Office”), Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (“Doctor Who”) and Levi Miller (“Pan”), plus recent newcomer to the screen Deric McCabe.

To read the review in its entirety, go to:


Video Wrap from “Hollywood on State” via Reel Chicago

March 7th, 2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Video Wrap from “Hollywood on State” via Reel Chicago”

There were a few additions to the Hollywood on State Oscar night viewing party at the Gene Siskel Film Center last night: I ventured into the celebration with staff writer Joey Filer, who wielded a camera and microphone to capture the action for a thrilling video.  Watch the video below and go to www.reelchicago.com for the full story!

And the winners (might) be…Oscar Predictions 2018

March 4th, 2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “And the winners (might) be…Oscar Predictions 2018”

The Oscar winners will soon be known, but until the curtain draws to a close, RHR has her predictions (and hopes) for the talented recipients of   that little gold statue.  Without further ado, here they are with predicted winners in bold and RHR’s hopefuls with an asterisk *




Call Me by Your Name


Phantom Thread


Get Out


Darkest Hour


Roman J. Israel, Esq.





The Florida Project


Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri


The Shape of Water


All the Money in the World


Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri





The Shape of Water


Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri


I, Tonya


Lady Bird


The Post






I, Tonya


Phantom Thread


Lady Bird


The Shape of Water





Tom McGrath and Ramsey Naito


Nora Twomey and Anthony Leo


Lee Unkrich and Darla K. Anderson


Carlos Saldanha and Lori Forte


Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and Ivan Mactaggart





Roger A. Deakins


Bruno Delbonnel


Hoyte van Hoytema


Rachel Morrison


Dan Laustsen





Jacqueline Durran


Jacqueline Durran


Mark Bridges


Luis Sequeira


Consolata Boyle





Christopher Nolan


Jordan Peele


Greta Gerwig


Paul Thomas Anderson


Guillermo del Toro





Steve James, Mark Mitten and Julie Goldman


Agnès Varda, JR and Rosalie Varda


Bryan Fogel and Dan Cogan


Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed and Søren Steen Jespersen


Yance Ford and Joslyn Barnes





Laura Checkoway and Thomas Lee Wright


Frank Stiefel


Elaine McMillion Sheldon and Kerrin Sheldon


Thomas Lennon


Kate Davis and David Heilbroner





Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos


Lee Smith


Tatiana S. Riegel


Sidney Wolinsky


Jon Gregory


















Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski and Lucy Sibbick


Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard


Arjen Tuiten





Hans Zimmer


Jonny Greenwood


Alexandre Desplat


John Williams


Carter Burwell





from Mudbound; Music and Lyric by Mary J. Blige, Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson


from Call Me by Your Name; Music and Lyric by Sufjan Stevens


from Coco; Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez


from Marshall; Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Lonnie R. Lynn and Diane Warren


from The Greatest Showman; Music and Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul





Peter Spears, Luca Guadagnino, Emilie Georges and Marco Morabito, Producers


Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, Anthony McCarten and Douglas Urbanski, Producers


Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan, Producers


Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Edward H. Hamm Jr. and Jordan Peele, Producers


Scott Rudin, Eli Bush and Evelyn O’Neill, Producers


JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson, Megan Ellison and Daniel Lupi, Producers


Amy Pascal, Steven Spielberg and Kristie Macosko Krieger, Producers


Guillermo del Toro and J. Miles Dale, Producers


Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin and Martin McDonagh, Producers





Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer


Production Design: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Alessandra Querzola


Production Design: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer


Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Gary Fettis


Production Design: Paul Denham Austerberry; Set Decoration: Shane Vieau and Jeffrey A. Melvin





Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant


Victor Caire and Gabriel Grapperon


Dave Mullins and Dana Murray


Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata


Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer





Reed Van Dyk


Derin Seale and Josh Lawson


Kevin Wilson, Jr.


Chris Overton and Rachel Shenton


Katja Benrath and Tobias Rosen





Julian Slater


Mark Mangini and Theo Green


Richard King and Alex Gibson


Nathan Robitaille and Nelson Ferreira


Matthew Wood and Ren Klyce





Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin and Mary H. Ellis


Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill and Mac Ruth


Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo and Mark Weingarten


Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern and Glen Gauthier


David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Stuart Wilson





John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert and Richard R. Hoover


Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner and Dan Sudick


Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza and Mike Meinardus


Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corbould


Joe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon and Joel Whist





Screenplay by James Ivory


Screenplay by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber


Screenplay by Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green; Story by James Mangold


Written for the screen by Aaron Sorkin


Screenplay by Virgil Williams and Dee Rees





Written by Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani


Written by Jordan Peele


Written by Greta Gerwig


Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor; Story by Guillermo del Toro


The Gene Siskel Film Center’s “Hollywood on State: Where You’re the Star”

February 27th, 2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “The Gene Siskel Film Center’s “Hollywood on State: Where You’re the Star””

The Gene Siskel Film Center will once again hosts its annual Oscar viewing party — “Hollywood on State: Where You’re the Star” — on Sunday, March 4.

This star-studded extravaganza, sponsored by Southwest Airlines, BMO Harris Bank, and The Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Foundation, gives participants an opportunity to watch the 90th Academy Awards show, live via telecast, in one of the newly renovated theaters as well as walk the red carpet while photogs capture the moment.

To read the article in its entirety, check out the link below:

Best seats in town: Siskel Center Oscar Viewing Party

“Game Night” All Fun in Typical February Style

February 23rd, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Game Night” All Fun in Typical February Style”

February isn’t exactly known for being a month of Oscar-worthy films, although “Get Out,” released last year at this time is the exception to the rule.  “Game Night,” starring Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams and Jesse Plemons, fits right into the expected level of film for the month.  That’s not to say it’s not worth seeing.  On the contrary. It’s pure escapisim from the doldrums of winter weather and February; especially if you live in Illinois!  “Game Night” poses a ridiculous situation revolving around a traditional past time filled with crazy antics that will have you suspending any sort of belief and making you laugh continuouslyjust what the doctor ordered for February. 



Max (Bateman) and Annie (McAdams) are the adoringly cute couple living in a cookie cutter cul-de-sac in sunny California.  Hosting a weekly game night and excluding Gary (Plemmons) the next door neighbor who is a creepy cop as well as an ex-husband of a former game night participant, the couple finds it difficult to host wtihout being spotted by ever-watching eyes.  Enter Brooks (Kyle Chandler), the enviable, successful, and decidedly more handsome older brother who shows up for the weekly competition…now, let the real games begin.  With long-seeded sibling rivalry between Max and Brooks, a criminal past that will soon catch up with them, and a game gone awry, the crazy situations and quest to win the game interwine for slap-stick comedy and over-the-top silliness.

We meet Annie and Max the night they fall in love.  Their chemistry and common love of competition and all things games draws them to one another.  We fast forward through their romance days and then their wedding, finding ourselves in the current day’s situation—dealing with Gary and sneaking friends in for game night.  The friends are unique characters, bringing their own personality and craziness to the night, but the story takes a detour and this is where the fun begins.  As anyone with a sibling can attest to, there’s always an element of jealousy and competition.  Max and Brooks’ rivalry is so extreme that as an outsider, you find it funny, but there’s also an element of reality or relatability to it.  Annie and Max have their issues as well, and Ryan’s infatuation with the 20-something flavor of the month is as dispicable as it is funny.  The film hits as many notes as possible to reel the viewer in and keep you on the line until the credits roll.  (Stay for those as the ends end is worth it.)

The jokes all hit home, from Trump-isms to gender stereotypical comments set straight, this film takes you on a comedic ride with a few laughs you might be embarrassed to say you found funny.  The stand out in this film, however, is Plemons, as the awkwardly odd and somehow creepy cop next door.  His measured reactions combined with that sad little puppy dog demeanor is somehow just the right combination to make us feel sorry for him yet still not totally trust him.  Plemmons steals each and every scene as we try to figure out whether or not we should love him or be frightened of him.  And here’s the other scary thing…we’ve all had a friend or acquaintence who we have left out…it’ll make you think back and maybe even think twice about that friend you skipped over.

Surprisingly, the story does have a few unexpected twists and turns in the road coupled with a few exaggeratedly gruesome scenes that make you laugh more than cringe.  The pace remains high throughout the film as Bateman uses his oh-so-familiar comedic cadence to get a few chuckles.  McAdams seems quite at ease playing off of Bateman’s antics, but it is Sharon Horgan’s “Sarah” that female viewers will find reassuring as she expresses what we all think of men like “Ryan” (Billy Magnussen).

“Game Night” is a fun-filled adventure movie with crazy stunts, antics, and situations that will have you laughing even when you probably shouldn’t.  The tried and true friendly game night with friends just upped the ante and viewers can go all in for a couple hours of total escapism.  It’s not “Get Out,” but it is fun.

Gene Siskel Film Center Oscar Panel Discussion: FF2 Media represented by Pamela Powell

February 1st, 2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Gene Siskel Film Center Oscar Panel Discussion: FF2 Media represented by Pamela Powell”

Published by FF2 Media, Author Stephanie A. Taylor

Contributor Pamela Powell represented FF2 Media at the Oscars Nominations Panel hosted by the Gene Siskel Film Center. Powell discusses her Oscars predictions and shared her thoughts about Greta Gerwig and Jordan Peele as they make history by being the fifth woman and the fifth Black director to be nominated for Best Director.

Stephanie A. Taylor (SAT): How was experience with being the only female on the panel?

Pamela Powell (PP): It’s a wonderful group of fellow critics from Chicago. I have the utmost respect for their positions in the film criticism community. It’s a little overwhelming, at times, to be the only woman and I certainly do have a different viewpoint on film. How I perceive them, how I interpret them, an overall sense of filmmaking and the overall message the film has.

SAT: Were you comfortable?

To read the article in its entirety, go to


The Best of Sundance 2018

January 27th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “The Best of Sundance 2018”

The 2018 Sundance Film Festival is winding down and having been a part of the first 5 days, there was a different feel to it this year. The streets weren’t as crowded with pedestrians. The traffic was much less congested. And the lines to attend the films didn’t seem too terribly long. Perhaps the addition of “The Ray” theater and better traffic management explains this calmer, more quiet feeling. Or has attendance dropped precipitously from last year?. Only the final numbers not yet available will tell, but I can attest to the fact that the energy level certainly seemed less intense, overall.

For women in film, that was certainly not the case as numerous panel discussions, presentations, and a significant number of female-written and -directed films were available to festival goers. In addition, the Women’s March took place in town drawing locals, festival attendees, and celebrities. Coincidentally, 6 of the top 10 films of the fest, from my viewpoint, were either written and/or directed by women. Here are my festival favorites:

Jennifer Fox adapts her own life story to tell the tale of sexual abuse as a child. Starring Laura Dern as “Jennifer,” we meet her as an adult, rediscovering through an old English class story her mother found, the reality of what happened more than 30 years ago. Her perspective as an adult and revisiting those memories, sometimes clouded by time and stitched together with the aid of others during that fateful summer, allows Jennifer to confront her thoughts, current fears, and most importantly, herself. Ellen Bernstein portrays Jennifer’s mother, adding a realistic and often-times humorous touch to the movie. But what is most heart-wrenching and painful is the visually emotional manipulation of an adult with a child. The film cuts deeply with the precision accuracy of a surgeon into the mind and emotions of a strong yet damaged woman. It’s a painful journey that is at once genuine, allowing the viewer to begin to understand the depth of sexual abuse.

Written and directed by Sara Colangelo, the film stars Maggie Gyllenhaal (Lisa), a kindergarten teacher, mother of two teens, and wife, just going through the motions. She’s struggling with her disappointment in life and the world in general until she finds Jimmy (Parker Sevak), a child prodigy in the art of poetry. Lisa becomes overly involved in this child’s life and skills, crossing moral boundaries for the sake of nurturing a lost appreciation of art. The tension is palpable and the suspense almost unbearable in this uniquely introspective look at society and values. Gyllenhaal’s performance is breathtaking and the final words uttered leave you speechless.

Tamara Jenkins and her team of writers adapt Nick Hornby’s novel “Juliet, Naked” about a rock legend who inadvertantly falls in love with his biggest fan’s significant other. Directed by Jesse Peretz, this rom-com stars Ethan Hawke (Tucker Crowe), Rose Byrne (Annie), and Chris O’Dowd (Duncan) creating a hilarious situation with dramatic overtones that is thoroughly entertaining. It’s a current day romance that never loses its sense of humor and never a dull moment. I haven’t laughed and been this engaged in a rom-com since “When Harry Met Sally.”

Who could have suspected that a film about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg could be absolutely entertaining? Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West weave together Justice Ginsburg’s youth, law school career, marriage, family, and legal experience, portraying all the ups and downs of each and we truly get to know this petite yet intellectually formidable woman. At the age of 83 years young, she is more popular than ever, inspiring young women to make a difference in this world. By the end of the film, after a few tears are shed along with many, many laughs, I learned about history and our judicial system. But most importantly, I know the woman that changed my life and every woman in America. Without her, we would still be ironing our husband’s shirts, never feeling valued as a viable person in the workplace.

Paul Rudd takes on an usual role, portraying the real life Moe Berg, a catcher in the professional baseball league and an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) spy. This brilliantly gifted man, speaking more than a half-dozen languages fluently, lead a very secretive life. No one ever really knew this man, but because of his skills, bravery, and intellect, the entire course of WWII may have taken a different path. Rudd immediately creates a believable character, always keeping his emotions close to the vest, but giving viewers those subtle features allowing us to see inside. This film has all the right components to create an informative yet entertaining story.

Kiera Knightley finds a revolutionary role in portraying Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a young woman lacking a dowry in the countryside of France. The older and more sophisticated Willy (Dominic West), woos and marries her, taking her to the refined city of Paris. There, the two battle one another as their financial woes worsen. Her eloquent writing skills become their life-line, but she is not allowed the credit. On the surface, it sounds like a typical time-period story, but Colette pushes the day’s viewpoint on sexuality, fidelity, and gender acceptance. It’s an unexpected story filled with beautiful surprises that are relevant even in today’s world. Knightley and West are magical together, even when they are oil and vinegar. Beautiful imagery and costuming bring us into this world as we are captivated by this true story.

Writer and director Debra Granik (“Winter’s Bone”) adapts Peter Rock’s novel of the same name to give us a slow-burn film about a father and daughter living off the grid in the gorgeous mountains of Oregon. AS they are forced to leave their unique “home,” Will (Ben Foster), suffering from PTSD, plunges more deeply into his inner-demons, affecting his relationship with his astute daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie). This gorgeously shot film takes you deep inside the confines of society and one’s ability to cope in this world as it explores love, relationships, and mental health.



Brett Haley has done it again. He finds a voice that does not imitate his own reflection and creates a story and characters that we are all craving to hear. Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) and Sam (Kiersey Clemons) are a father and daughter, struggling with the next stage of life. Frank’s failing record store and seeing that Sam is ready to move across the country for college is more than he is able to bear. Discovering his daughter’s amazing songwriting and performing skills during their “jam sesh,” Frank tries to create a band via Spotify which goes viral. It’s a balancing act as Frank pulls Sam back and Sam attempts to cut the apron strings. The film explores topics of young love and sexuality as well as father-daughter relationships using humor and poignancy. Did I mention the music is simply amazing? It is! Haley stated that he is truly proud of this film…and he should be!

Pentecostal preacher Bishop Carlton Pearson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has a come to Jesus moment as he hears the voice of God one night. Finding a new way to interpret the Bible, Pearson begins to preach a different story—one that his congregation and mentors find to be heresy. Based on the true story originally told by Ira Glass on WBEZ’s ‘This American Life,’ director Joshua Marston (“Maria Full of Grace,” “Complete Unknown”) brings us a human story with divine intervention. Ejiofor, Jason Segal, and Martin Sheen star in this revelatory story that may allow you to see Christianity in a new light.

Mor Loushy and Daniel Siven give us the untold account of two warring people, the Israelis and the Palestinians, and the representatives that secretly met in the hopes of establishing peace. This historical recounting of events in the 1990’s allow us to see the countrys’ attempts to negotiate as well as the conundrum of how to compromise and maintain the constituents’ support. Getting to know these men on a personal basis brings a level of humanity and understanding that we wouldn’t otherwise know.

Check out interview with Claire McCarthy (“Ophelia”), and Q&A responses with Brett Haley (“Hearts Beat Loud”), Julie Cohen and Betsy West (“RBG”) and Debra Granik (“Leave No Trace”) at www.reelhonestreviews.com


2018 Slamdance Film Festival Highlights: An Exceptional Year

January 27th, 2018 Posted by News, Review 0 thoughts on “2018 Slamdance Film Festival Highlights: An Exceptional Year”

Since 1995, the Slamdance Film Festival has taken place simultaneously with the Sundance Film Festival in the same mountain ski town of Park City, Utah.  The festival, began “…when a group of cheerful, subversive filmmakers weren’t accepted into the Sundance Film Festival [and were] unwilling to take ‘no’ for an answer…”  Since that time, the festival has grown exponentially, giving independent and innovative films a chance they may not have otherwise been given.  The fest prides itself on being “By Filmmakers For Filmmakers.”

The 24th annual festival has now come to a close with the winners having been announced.  “Rock Steady Row” won for Best Narrative Feature and Audience Award while “Mr. Fish: Cartooning From the Deep End” won for Best Documentary Feature.  These two films are still on my list to screen, but the winners from the several films I did see are:


Dana Nachman and Tom Hardy, Jr., are back at Slamdance after a three year hiatus.  Their first documentary feature film that screened at the fest was the heartwarming “Batkid Begins,” a story about a child whose Make A Wish choice brings the entire city of San Francisco together to create a day of pure joy for a young boy.  Now the dynamic duo of Nachman and Hardy give us “Pick of the Litter,” another heartwarming yet educational film about the journey of 5 labrador retriever puppies born to attempt to become a seeing eye guide dog for the blind. 

The film is at once captivating (of course, they’re adorable little fur balls), but it is also thrilling as we see the love and heartbreak that occurs with the temporary owners who give these little pups their start in training.  Following them from home to home, interviewing the possible candidates about receiving a dog, we connect with the people and the animals, rooting for them all, but knowing, like people, they are all different.

This 20 month journey will bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your face as you watch this horse race of dogs attempting to cross that finish line of helping a blind individual become more independent.  Will it be Phil? Potomac? Primrose? Patriot or Poppet?  Check out the film, grab some tissues, and snuggle with your own little buddy as you learn and love what canines can do for their humans.


Becoming aware of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) thanks to James Redford’s film “Resilience,” allowed me to see the importance of  Santiago Rizzo’s  film “Quest” as more than just a wonderful, sweet story about a teacher going above and beyond for a child because he cared.  The film depicts the real life story of Tim Moellering, a teacher who was that one stable adult in a young child’s life whose home life consisted of an abusive step father, an absentee mother, and an environment filled with violence.

This is Rizzo’s directorial debut and also co-writing the story based on his life and Moellering’s.  Dash Mihok (“Ray Donovan”) embodies the look, heart, and “humility” as Rizzo described him to become Moellering.  Other recognizable faces include Lou Diamond Phillips and Lakeith Stanfield as they add their talent to an important story about the need to help a child who is struggling.  The young Greg Kasyan shines in the role depicting a boy who is pulled in different and dangerous directions yet yearning for the chance to succeed in a positive way.  The immediate and genuine connection between Mills (Kasyan) and Moellering (Mihok) evokes a sincere understanding of what it takes to be a teacher and the importance of their role in our children’s lives. 

“Quest” allows us to see that Moellering was an exception to the rule.  He made a difference in one boy’s life and most certainly many more.  We need more teachers willing to step up and into the troubled lives of our youth.  One teacher can and did make a difference.  “Quest” is a film every teacher should see.


Directors Natalie Kottke and Erica Sardarian take us to the little southern town of Crossett, Arkansas where the big paper production company Georgia-Pacific resides, employing much of the town and the neighboring ones as well.  The town has a more than remarkable cancer rate, many of these victims working in the mill and/or residing next to contaminated water sources. 

The directors investigate the town, interviewing residents, government officials, and environmental agencies, concluding the obvious.  But big business owned by none other than the Koch brothers, Charles and David, is like fighting Goliath.  The filmmakers lay out the pieces of information as they sometimes candidly film situations and conversations, allowing us to be privy to the discovery, devastation, and frustration this town is experiencing. 

“Company Town” is just one example of how big business takes precedence over the every day worker.  It’s yet another “Erin Brockovich” that we need to be aware of, but more importantly, we need to stand up for and protect one another .


Surrogacy is a hot topic right now and filmmaker Charlie Birns takes this topic and delves deeply into how it affects a young couple and the surrogate, Genevieve.  Starring Julie Sokolowski as Genevieve, we experience her emotions and confusion as she becomes a part of Lucinda (Kerry Condon) and Sidney’s (Dominic Fumusa) family.  The boundaries that are crossed  create connections and sever others, bringing us closer to what could possibly occur between a surrogate and the expectant couple.

Sokolowski’s raw performance is unparalleled as she exudes a depth of emotion in this role.  Condon and Fumusa find beautiful compatibility with one another and exquisitely portray the difficulties in a relationship as things begin to spiral out of control.  While surrogacy is the vehicle which drives the plot, the film is ultimately about our relationship with one another and how our choices affect us.

Beautifully shot with an ending that is more than satisfying, “Human Affairs” is a brilliant depiction that exposes our innermost emotions in relationships.  This is Birns first feature film and given its depth and complexity, I certainly hope it’s not his last.

Check back for interviews with many of these exceptionally talented filmmakers!

“Ophelia” director Claire McCarthy talks contemporary take on Hamlet

January 26th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on ““Ophelia” director Claire McCarthy talks contemporary take on Hamlet”

From the January 26, 2018 publication of FF2 Media:

Director Claire McCarthy who earlier this month was named as one of 10 “directors to watch” in Variety Magazine, sat down to talk with me at the Sundance Film Festival just days before the world premiere of her film Ophelia.

Shakespeare is nothing new to McCarthy having had an immediate connection to the renowned author from her early high school days.  “There was something about the words of Shakespeare that are sublime and the themes that really kind of struck me…I did study Hamlet quite intimately…so I knew it from the perspective of its faithful original text.  Our version is taking the original text and turning it on its head.”


Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

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

January 20th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Pick of the Litter” Opens the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Our New President” Explores alternative filmmaking and “alternative facts” in politics

January 19th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Our New President” Explores alternative filmmaking and “alternative facts” in politics”

Filmmaker Maxim Pozdorovkin has found a most unusual way of creating a documentary with “Our New President,” one of the opening night films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  Taking archival footage only, from YouTube’s Russia Today (RT) and NTV, the two national and only television stations, this revolutionary filmmaker brings us behind the curtain to experience the power of the media upon the Russian people.  Video clips from these shows and from uploaded content posted by Russian citizens, we are brought back to the 1990’s when Hillary Clinton visited Russia.  The story is murky after this point as RT found that Hillary was cursed after this time, invoking fainting spells and other medical conditions.  The ridiculousness of the stories purported and supported by the handpicked newscasters would ordinarily make you laugh if the consequences weren’t so dire.

The film continues along a time line to bring us to the past year’s election, defining Trump’s rise to power.  We witness the democracy of the newspaper in Russia become a spokesperson for the government, threatening those who dare to go against Putin.  From ordinary citizens to representatives living here in the U.S to high ranking Russian officials, we are privy to eye-opening footage that if nothing else, makes you wonder about the realities we have come to accept in our world.

“Our New President” gives us an interesting perspective from which to view Trump and Clinton as well as punctuating the need for democracy within our news organizations.  Without this, we could end up looking at our Chakra’s and our horoscopes to determine the next global decision.

Be sure to check out this cutting-edge style of documentary and then decide for yourself what’s true, what’s real, and what’s an alternative fact.  If that doesn’t work, Mercury is in retrograde right now, so hold off on any major decisions.


2018 Slamdance Anticipated Standout Films

January 17th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “2018 Slamdance Anticipated Standout Films”

Park City visitors do have a choice when it comes to festivals in the coming days as both the Sundance and Slamdance film festivals will be showcasing their best submissions. Sundance gets all the glory, but Slamdance, co-founded by Dan Mirvish, will take place at the Treasure Mountain Inn (TMI) at the top of the Main St. beginning on Friday, Jan. 19- Jan. 25. The festival prides itself on giving new directors and filmmakers a chance to shine. Recognizable names such as Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight,” “Dunkirk,” “Interstellar”), Oren Peli (“Paranormal Activity”), Lynn Shelton (“Humpday”) and Seth Gordon (“Horrible Bosses”) all started right here at the TMI in Park City. Who knows which film shown here this week will be the springboard for the next Nolan or Gordon! Reel Honest Reviews, through hours of research, is here to help you find that next great film. Without further ado, here is my list of anticipated highlights from this upcoming Indie Film Fest:

“Quest” tells the true story of a young, troubled graffiti artist with an abusive father (Lou Diamond Phillips) who finds resiliency and hope in his teacher and coach, Tim Moellering (Dash Mihok).

“Pick of the Litter” is Dana Nachman and Don Hardy, Jr.’s newest collaboration documenting the journey of 5 newborn puppies bred to possibly make the cut in being a blind person’s guide dog. If it’s anything like “Batkid Begins,” it’s sure to be a heartwarming tale or should I say, “tail.”

“Human Affairs” takes a hot and controversial topic, surrogacy, and brings an element of emotional reality told from a successful couple’s and a young girl’s perspective. It’s bound to strike a chord in morality, judgment, and legal rights in this drama starring Julie Sokolowski, Kerry Condon, Dominic Fumusa,, and David Harbour.

“Company Town” looks at a small town in Arkansas whose main employer is Georgia-Pacific.  The town is dying.  Literally.  The cause seems obvious, but fighting huge lobbyists, the EPA, the Koch Brothers, and corporations isn’t for the little guy.  Natalie Kottke and Erica Sardarian write and direct this film that promises education and environmental awareness along with possibly a little bit of hope for the underdog.

Also on this critic’s list are: “Funny Story,” “Sunny Side,” “Lovers,” and the short film “Magic Bullet.” Speaking of short films, Slamdance brings things old school, the best way, by showing a relevant short film prior to the feature film. And like most festivals, the writers, directors, and talent in front of the camera will be on hand to ask questions of after the film.

For more information about the festival, go to SLAMDANCE

“I, Daniel Blake” Finds humanity and humor in our bureaucratic world

January 16th, 2018 Posted by Weekly DVD 0 thoughts on ““I, Daniel Blake” Finds humanity and humor in our bureaucratic world”


Ken Loach directs the off-kilter comedian Dave Johns in “I, Daniel Blake,”  a beautiful depiction of healthcare and bureaucracy in England.  Daniel (Johns) suffers a heart attack and wants nothing more than to go back to work, but due to the State’s red tape and edicts regarding fitness to return, he winds up fighting the system in order to receive his deserved Employment and Support Allowance.  It’s a familiar exercise in frustration not limited to healthcare abroad, but the story delves more deeply into humanity as Daniel befriends a young, single mother trying to make ends meet…by any means possible.  The two work through their situations with the support from one another—a father-daughter type of relationship—reminding us all about the importance of connections and love.


Daniel, a 59 year-old carpenter, suffered a heart attack.  Not yet cleared to go back to this type of work, he must find alternative work and times have changed.  Disability compensation is due to Daniel from the State, but the hoops he must jump through are counter-productive and make absolutely no logical sense.  As his frustration understandably builds, as does ours from watching, Daniel sees yet another injustice occurring.  Unlike State workers, he readily sees that no common sense whatsoever is being used.  He winds up in even more trouble as he seeks a little misdemeanor revenge.  This incident bonds Katie (Hayley Squires) who seems to be running away from life and starting anew with her adorable daughter Daisy (Briana Shann) and son (Dylan McKiernan) who has some issues.  Daniel becomes an integral part of their lives, but as in everyone’s life, there are a few bumpy sections along the way.  The story is simply sublime, taking us on a journey through the eyes of another yet allowing us to intimately relate to each of the characters

Johns’ portrayal of Daniel is extraordinary.  He easily represents a man who has worked hard all his life, but in the end, the lack of what he has to show in tangible form is disheartening.  Johns creates a character who is complexly beautiful on the inside.  His performance in frustration and acting out appears to be one that he identifies with readily, allowing viewers to immediately connect with him.   While the dialogue is frequently light, what is said visually is loud and clear.  He also creates a fatherly connection with Squires who demonstrates what many single mothers must experience.  Together, they are an absolute delight as we invest our energy in needing to know how things end.  Shann is exceptional as Daisy.  Finding child actors who understand the situation that they are in and who they must portray is exceedingly difficult, but Shann is a natural.

The talent of screenwriter Paul Laverty to tell such a seemingly simple story with touches of humor and irony, bringing out the subtle but poignantly significant aspects of life to the forefront is genius.  With Loach directing the talented actors, it’s no wonder there is an immediate attachment to each of the characters.  “I, Daniel Blake” is a film that tells a familiar and meaningful story, reminding us of how important we can be in one another’s lives if we take the time to look.  Films like this resonate personally with us and stay with us long after the final credits roll.

“I, Daniel Blake” opens on June 9, 2017 at the Musicbox Theatre in Chicago.  For more information, go to www.musicboxtheatre.com or Facebook www.facebook.com/IDanielBlakeUS/


RHR’s Full List of Films at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival

January 15th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on “RHR’s Full List of Films at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival”

Women filmmakers and giving them a little louder voice is certainly a part of my agenda while I’m covering the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, but there are plenty more films to add to my “must-see” list.  If you’re lucky enough to attend even one day of this prestigious festival, perhaps one of these recommendations will fit your schedule.

U. S. Dramatic Films:

Garrett Hedlund in BURDEN, photo courtesy of the Sundance Institute


U. S. Documentary Films:


World Cinema Dramatic Films:


World Cinema Documentary Films:



BEIRUT, photo courtesy of the Sundance Institute


Documentary Premieres:



FOXTROT, I AM NOT A WITCH, YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE and  THE RIDER (see interview in FF2 Media with director Chloe Zhao here)





This isn’t even the end of the list!  There are promising short films in every category, Indie Episodic films, and virtual reality presentations also available during the festival.  Check back to RHR, FF2 Media, The Daily Journal, and Fete Lifestyle Magazine for full coverage of Sundance 2018!


Sundance: A Gamechanger for Women Making Films

January 15th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, News, Review 0 thoughts on “Sundance: A Gamechanger for Women Making Films”

The Sundance Film Festival, founded in 1981, opens on Jan. 18 in the quaint ski town of Park City, Utah.  The festival will run for 11 action-packed days giving filmmakers, artists, actors, and patrons a non-stop film-related extravaganza including screenings, panel discussions, interactive programming, and even music.  While locals may find it difficult to navigate the narrow mountain town streets on foot or by car, the town’s guests continue to find Sundance one of the premiere festivals in the world.  Why? and What makes this festival shine?

To read the rest of the article as it was published in the January 2018 edition of Fete Lifestyle Magazine, go to Fete Lifestyle Magazine

Weighing in on “42 Grams” An interview with Jack C. Newell

January 12th, 2018 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Weighing in on “42 Grams” An interview with Jack C. Newell”

Curiosity is the main ingredient in Jack C. Newell’s newest film “42 Grams,” a documentary about a chef, Jake Bickelhaupt, his wife Alexa, and the impact of a high-stakes restaurant life. Newell, the Program Director at The Harold Ramis Film School at The Second City and also a commercial director, met with me recently to discuss the film, the subjects, and how this labor of love came to be.

Newell’s curiosity, as he said, “…was rewarded in the biggest ways possible” as “42 Grams” hit the film festival circuit and is now currently available on digital platforms such as iTunes. But Newell cautions that  this isn’t your typical food documentary, defining the it as “…really funny at moments, and really, really sad…you learn something, but you also feel something. It’s complex.”

Complexity in the most satisfying ingredient in “42 Grams” and that word accurately describes this culinary tale. Newell’s keen insight and willingness to share his thoughts about the process were, dare I say, icing on the cake when it comes to savoring the many complicated and delicious layers of this film.

Food is a common theme in Newell’s cinematic endeavors. His first feature film, “Close Quarters,” featured two young baristas and his second feature, “Open Tables” “…was an exploration of food, but from the diners’ point of view. Food is almost incidental…” And now, Newell found Bickelhaupt, a self-trained chef with one of the most impressive resumes you’ve ever seen. Working under Charlie Trotter and creating dishes at the world-renowned Alinea and Schwa in Chicago, this underground chef turned 2-Star Michelin restaurant purveyor is now the focus of a uniquely emotional, delicious, and sometimes volatile story.

Finding Jake seemed serendipitous as Newell and his then-girlfriend Rebecca attended a fundraiser at the  Steppenwolf Theater in 2013. One of the silent auction items was dinner at an underground restaurant called Sous Rising. Newell, a foodie who takes pride in his knowledge of the Chicago restaurant scene, couldn’t believe his luck. The couple “won” the item and were blown away by the food served in this this intimate Uptown neighborhood apartment. “It’s the best food I’ve ever had. Easily. Each course is better than the one before it…” Newell then approached Bickelhaupt after the meal, connected over their common roots of Wisconsin and said, “‘Could I follow you?’ and he said ‘yes.’ So three weeks later I just showed up with my camera and just started filming them do the underground restaurant thing.”

The entire project simmered in the pot for about 3 years. Newell shared that after “…a year and 9 months of solid filming [there was] no solid narrative arc being apparent.” Did he panic? The answer is a resounding “no.” He reiterated his curious nature. “Curiosity isn’t a business plan and no one can make a career on it…but that’s what makes it so special.” He continued, “…[Bickelhaupt’s] wife (Alexa) presenting the food that he’s making…that was a very intimate dynamic that you almost never get at restaurants. It’s like family.”

Capturing that intimacy and finding that narrative arc was no easy task.  Newell confided that after 2 years into filming, becoming a fly on the wall, he encountered a reticence to stay involved by both Jake and Alexa. “I thought I had lost my access…every single question I would ask, they’d give me the same answer. I was running out of steam.” Newell was afraid that might be the end of the road, but his instinct pushed him forward, allowing the couple to view a rough cut of the film.  This was the turning point. Jake left the room at the end of the showing, overwhelmed by emotion as he witnessed some of his outbursts and character flaws. Alexa then told Newell, “‘You’re not done yet. You have way more to film. We have to tell you about our marriage. We have to tell you about our parents’” Newell said, “In showing them [the rough cut] it opened up a whole other avenue…I had actually taken it easy on Jake because I was a little worried about showing it to him.” The full story could now be told making this a more complicated and delectable film.

Emotions ran high in this intense documentary as we became connected with Jake and Alexa. We saw the good and the bad, the real people in front of the camera lens. They weren’t perfect—they were real. And then, Newell happened to capture one of the most dramatic scenes that gave him that needed narrative arc. That particular scene brought me to  tears and Newell shared that he too cries “…every time I see it which is crazy because once you see your movie enough times you get really desensitized to it, but not that part! And then, the very, very end, I cry at that part too!” Newell felt that the film is just like a great meal. “…you’re super satisfied…It’s emotional and true. That’s exactly what the [restaurant] life is. There’s always darkness [and] sacrifice.”  

Newell, a “jack of all trades,” has found that his ability to wear a variety of hats, from actor and editor to director and producer, making him a better filmmaker. Newell described making “42 Grams” as “…a perfect machine. It works on every single level.” And I couldn’t agree more—it’s the appetizer, the palate cleanser, the entree and dessert of movies.   This experience, according to Newell, has given him more confidence in his story-telling abilities and has learned a very valuable lesson: “Tell the story you want to tell. Don’t tell the story you think people want you to tell.” He has done just that with “42 Grams” and I’m confident we will see that in his upcoming documentary “How to Build a School in Haiti,” and a narrative film with the working title “Monuments.”

While you can see “42 Grams” on VOD, Chicagoans have the amazing opportunity to see it in the newly renovated Gene Siskel Film Center  , meet Jack C. Newel,l and ask questions after the film on Jan. 27 and 28 and on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.  For tickets to this cinematically beautiful and creative delight, go to http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/42grams

"Kate Can’t Swim" A Standout at Slamdance by Pamela Powell

January 12th, 2018 Posted by Review, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “"Kate Can’t Swim" A Standout at Slamdance by Pamela Powell”


“Kate Can’t Swim” premiered at the 2017 Slamdance Film Festival and will be available on VOD on January 23, 2018.  The film is co-written by Josh Helman and Jennifer Allcott.  Helman also directs and stars alongside Allcott, Celeste Arias, and Grayson DeJesus.  This first-time director and writing pair gives us a striking, complex and provocative film that typifies relationships and sexuality issues with unapologetic clarity.


Kate (Arias) and Pete (DeJesus) seem the happy, young couple, living a predictable life in NYC.  Em (Allcott) returns from living abroad with her new boyfriend, Nick (Helman).  The two couples travel to a remote area of New York to enjoy a weekend in the country in an effort to get to know Em’s new lifestyle and her new beau.  This peaceful backdrop promises to be anything but idyllic as the two couples plunge into the most terrifying place possible—their minds and emotions—putting into question their own morals, choices, and boundaries.

The two couples seem perfectly happy with one another, but it is these close quarters that bring out the true feelings including resentment, jealousy, and an unexpected love.  The film captures each of these characters’ true selves as they discover their own reflection.  Kate struggles with what she sees and how she feels, not quite understanding it herself.  The pressures of expectations Kate feels along with the complexities of sexuality and attraction are peeled away, allowing the viewer to see things from a new perspective.  As Pete, Em, and Nick see her true self, confronting her, it becomes more than she can handle.  Her response leaves the viewer breathless.

“Kate Can’t Swim” is a visually striking film that cinematically captures the atmosphere even when the story and the environment are in complete opposition.  Cinematographer Tommy Agriodimas brings you into the cabin, making you the 5th guest.    Helman and Allcott’s  script is powerful and succinct with tight dialogue and pacing that runs parallel to the emotion of the scene.

The story tackles the concept of love, sexuality, fear of the future, relationships of many types, and expectations within our society as well as within ourselves which sounds like a lot, but it is never overwhelming.  With the story-line focused upon Kate, the supporting cast adds their own stories, augmenting the main focus beautifully.

The cast is stellar with a natural chemistry between not only the two couples, but between Arias and Allcott.  Their gestures and unforced laughter creates a feeling of truly having grown up together.  Arias has a standout performance, skillfully portraying a very complicated character.  While we may not always agree with her decisions, we understand them and feel her pain and internal conflict. Her character development,  a testament not only to the writing and directing, but to Arias’ skills, unfolds beautifully.  Helman also finds a way to express such subtle nuances in his performance transforming himself with absolute ease from an intimidatingly intelligent man to a thoughtful, caring, and insightful one the next moment.  That unpredictability captures your attention and creates an undeniable tension, pulling you deeper into the muddied waters of relationships and truth.

“Kate Can’t Swim” is a standout film this year.  With skillful direction, creatively honed writing, beautiful cinematography, and an amazing cast, the film is one not to be missed.

For more information about the film, go to www.katecantswim.com

Check out the interview I had with Josh and Jennifer RIGHT HERE


Women Standing Strong at the 75th Golden Globes

January 8th, 2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Women Standing Strong at the 75th Golden Globes”

The 75th Golden Globes, what many consider the most important indicator of Oscar, is now over, but will it predict what happens on March 4th?  Only time will tell.  What we do know is that women were the focus of the Golden Globes ceremony from Seth Meyers and his sometimes jarring jokes and his heartfelt words of encouragement to the remarkably powerful speeches from Oprah Winfrey and Elizabeth Moss.  The tides have turned and it is evident that not only Hollywood has changed, but our entire nation is looking at gender equality…for the first time in a long time.

Although there were no female directors nominated by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) this year, hopefully, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) will be a bit more open to looking at front-runner female-lead films for these nominations.   The world of film was filled with amazing female-written and directed films that film critic organizations around the country have recognized.  Last night, the FHPA did award “Lady Bird,” directed by Greta Gerwig,  for the Best Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy, and the star of this film, Saiorse Ronan  for Best Actress in this category as well, but unfortunately, this  outstanding film was snubbed for the Best Director.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” was the big winner last night with 4 wins followed by 2 wins apiece for “The Shape of Water”and “Lady Bird.”  Allison Janney took home her award for playing Tonya Harding’s mom in “I, Tonya,” and both Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”) and James Franco (“The Disaster Artist”) had the pleasure of accepting an award.

The films that were recognized last night and the nominations of all are certainly going to be on the Oscar list when the nominations are announced on Tuesday, Jan. 23rd, but given the strength and power of last night’s show, I believe we are going to see a few more women on the list.  Dee Rees, Greta Gerwig, Agnes Varda, Alice Birch, Petra Biondina Volpe, Patty Jenkins and many more have been the buzz of the town and this critic will be shocked and disappointed if we don’t see these women on that list.

“Keep Talking” At the Gene Siskel Film Center

January 7th, 2018 Posted by Interviews, News 0 thoughts on ““Keep Talking” At the Gene Siskel Film Center”

The multiple award-winning documentary KEEP TALKING is Chicagoan Karen Lynn Weinberg’s newest documentary film depicting the efforts of four Alaskan Native women fighting to save the endangered language Alutiiq. Less than 40 fluent speakers remain, placing a heavy burden on them to keep not only the language alive, but the culture and history that is an integral part of it as well. Within the film, we begin to understand the important role indigenous language plays in those seeking a sense of identity and the necessary bonds between the Alutiiq people.

I had an opportunity to talk with Weinberg about her informative and emotional film and how it has impacted her, the Alutiiq community, and other cultures around the world. Her insight and passion will at once inspire you to see the film and see the world in a different and more compassionate way.

The Indiana University graduate found her first passion for langauage in literature, particularly Shakespeare as his writing “…allowed me to personally experience the power of language to elevate and transform.” Weinberg also studied French, Spanish, and Italian, and even when she became a published author and documentary film editor, she found time to tutor English to adults when she could.

Weinberg’s teaching skills crossed over into film editing and Weinberg was invited by the Native Village of Afognak to Kodiak, Alaska to teach a one-week course. Her entire class was comprised of Kodiak Alutiiq as the group wanted to learn the necessary software to preserve their native language and their culture. Weinberg shared, “I was hooked and wanted to know more…At the time, I had wanted to try my hand at producing/directing a documentary, so I went Kari (a language activist) a proposal to take to their Elders, and they granted me see funding and permission to come film their first-ever Dig Afognak camp geared towards immersion.”

Weinberg felt her own background weighing on her as an outsider to this community. She was an outsider and says, “I mean, how many times have Indigenous people been misrepresented in the white media? I felt an enormous responsibility to get it right.” Working with the community, conducting feedback sessions, and finding translators to interpret hours of footage allowed Weinberg to immerse herself, gain the necessary funding, and most importantly, get it right.

“Keep Talking” is powerful, but the one aspect that really is quite emotional is Sadie’s story. She’s a struggling teen who seems to transform her personality and hope for her future when she is among her people, learning her native tongue, and embracing her roots and traditions. Finding and focusing on Sadie gives the viewer a true understanding of the need to not lose our culture. Weinberg shared that she and the film’s cinematographer, Nara Garber, were immediately drawn to her. “As I got to know her, I understood that she was in a tough place emotionally, much as I was at her age. At the same time, the language and Alutiiq dancing was a clear, bright spot in her life.” Weinberg continued, “While we absolutely had more people we were filming with and I wish all the storylines could have fit into this film, it was Sadie’s coming of age story that most clearly illustrated the power of culture to help and heal.”

The film’s impact upon the viewer is tremendous as it exhibits the historical tragedies that continue to effect the culture in negative ways. A reconnection to their beginnings seems to have a healing effect. Weinberg has found from viewers that “…language revitalization work helps to heal historical trauma.” She continued, “In a bigger sense, I hope that the film contributes to discussions of the need for governmental bodies to provide lasting support to programs like language revitalization: this support is sorely needed to help to heal some of the damage done by assimilationist policies practiced by the United States, Canada and countless other countries formed with colonization at their core.”

Weinberg passionately expressed that, “Making this film has me firmly convinced that modern society desperately needs a push towards interpersonal connection and communication, including strengthening people’s sense of identity with an awareness of their own ancestry and heritage.” Perhaps in looking forward, we all need to look backward and see where we began and hold on to our roots, cherish our elders’ and their knowledge, and learn about our ancestry, no matter where we began. It is obvious in “Keep Talking” that this Alutiiq culture is on a more positive path…one that would benefit us all in understanding one another and even ourselves.

In closing, I asked Weinberg what was her favorite word or expression. Her answer brings me to happy tears. She said, “Since I can’t spell or say my favorite word (which means ‘they always tease me’), I will leave you with ‘Tang’rciqamken’- I will see you later. It’s a substitute for goodbye. I love that there is no word for goodbye.” The film screened at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Friday, Jan. 5th for its grand re-opening and will screen again on Jan. 11. For more information about tickets, go to www.siskelfilmcenter.org/keeptalking

For more information about the film go to www.keeptalkingthefilm.com




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