Posts by pamela

“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

“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 or Facebook


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

"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

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

For more information about the film go to


“Molly’s Game” stacks the deck for a high-stakes game of life

January 4th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Molly’s Game” stacks the deck for a high-stakes game of life”

Jessica Chastain stars as Molly Bloom, Olympic ski athlete turned high-stakes gambling ring leader, in the intensely complicated, fast-paced thriller “Molly’s Game” based on autobiography of the same name. Bloom has been convicted of leading an illegal gambling ring and is arrested by the FBI. Pleading innocense over the last 2 years, after having been arrested the first time, Bloom seeks the legal prowess of the upstanding high-powered and well-respected Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba). It’s a fight that boils down to integrity and honesty that will leave you speechless.

The story begins in the middle as Bloom is abruptly awoken in the middle of the night to harsh and over-reactive FBI agents. We are then taken back in time to Bloom’s childhood where her parents, particularly her father, Larry (Kevin Costner), drive her to accomplish greatness in skiing. The opposition between the father-daughter duo is obvious and painful to watch, but as Bloom is narrating these scenes, you begin to understand where she gets her determination, strength, and single-mindedness. Pay close attention to every word Bloom utters as this intelligently crafted script brings everything around full circle.

When the audience is caught up to speed, we rejoin Bloom as she meets and convinces Jaffey to represent her in court. Again, to allow Jaffey (and the audience) to understand her current situation, we are brought back to Bloom’s life as she hit the crossroads after a life-threatening and athletic career ending accident. Choosing, against her father’s wishes, to go to L.A. and postpone law school, Bloom finds herself working for a gambling ring leader. With her intelligence and savvy skills, Bloom easily takes over the game and builds it to new levels.

Here’s where it gets complicated. The ring is comprised of high-profile actors, investors, and businessmen. We delve into the background of each of these remarkably interesting personalities and as we do, we learn more about Bloom, her choices, and eventually her final decision. Combining the complicated situations, the fast-paced dialogue and the intensity of the situation leaves you on the edge of your seat, captivated by every important word uttered.

“Molly’s Game” is Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut and given his brilliant direction, it won’t be his last. Known for his screenwriting skills with award-winning films such as “A Few Good Men,” “The Social Network,” and television shows such as “The Newsroom,” and “The West Wing,” it’s obvious with “Molly’s Game” that he has a vision and can bring that vision to life on the screen via his directorial skills as well.

The right cast is a must and this film is loaded with A-listers who bring humor and depth to even the smallest of roles. Michael Cera portrays “Player X,” a self-absorbed Hollywood big wig and Chris O’Dowd is the lovable loser. Graham Greene finds wisdom and believe it or not, humor, in his role as Judge Foxman and we find ourselves filled with anger as we see the effects of Costner’s harshness as a father to Molly. Every character actor stands out, each giving it all in their performance.

Then we have Chastain who is one of the most versatile actresses in Hollywood. She finds that shrewd intelligence and edginess to her performance that we saw in “Miss Sloane” and the depth to her integrity she exhibited in “The Zookeeper’s Wife.” With Molly, however, there’s a sage and jaded aspect that allows her to rise above those around her while she maintains a connection to her younger and more vulnerable and loving self. The story-line and the character are equally complicated and just as enjoyable as we peel away all the layers to her personality and her story..

In addition, there’s certainly a chemistry between Alba and Chastain on screen. It’s one of respect both in character and one that is exhibited naturally. They are both powerful personalities both on and off the screen and together they create mesmerizing interactions and dialogue. Both Alba and Chastain become their respective characters and deliver performances that are both memorable and meaningful.

“Molly’s Game” uses a non-linear storytelling technique to give us a complete picture. Editing is key in conveying the story, particularly one that is rather complex without making it confusing. However, given the film’s long running time, a bit more editing of non-essential information could have paired down the film, creating an even more intense film that doesn’t have any lulls. While this is a perceived flaw in the film, it is certainly not a detrimental one as the story and performances are exceptionally strong. Whenever you have a film that gives us a ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ premise, it becomes an even more entertaining one.

“Molly’s Game” is an intense and unexpected thriller based on Molly Bloom’s life as a competitive Olympic ski athlete who then ran the largest and most high-profile gambling ring in the world. She must defend her changed and honest ways and has only one hope—her lawyer. Great performances, fast-paced dialogue and a unique storyline make this film one of the top films of the year.

3 1/2 Stars

"The Polka King" Dances to the beat of a different drum By Pamela Powell

December 30th, 2017 Posted by Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “"The Polka King" Dances to the beat of a different drum By Pamela Powell”


“Truth is stranger than fiction,” producer David Permut said about the new film “The Polka King” starring Jack Black, Jenny Slate, and Jackie Weaver.  And he’s absolutely correct.  In the 1990’s, a well-meaning, hard-working immigrant from Poland, barely making ends meet, devises an investment scheme that makes him millions.  The problem?  It’s a Ponzi scheme…A Polish Ponzi scheme.  The first of its kind and probably the last.

Jan Lewan (Black), living in Pennsylvania, with his wife (Slate) and astute yet meaner than a junkyard dog mother-in-law (Weaver), wants nothing more than to make a living and play music to Polka lovers everywhere.  The cost of doing this is greater than he can afford and more than his tchotchke gift store can fund.  So he takes on a few investors in his “company,” eventually swindling trusting elderly members of the community out of approximately $5 million.  If he sounds like a low-life criminal, you’d be wrong.  This guy, as Black portrays him which according to the documentary “The Man Who Would Be Polka King,”  is anything but that.  He’s sweet and devoid of malice.  He puts his family first…even that mother-in-law of his.  The film takes us through the years of Lewan’s misdeeds, giving us an absolutely charming and hilarious look at a man who digs a deeper and deeper hole until there’s seemingly no escape.  His escape, however, is even more hysterical!  There is no way anyone could make this stuff up…truth is truly stranger than fiction.

The husband wife team of Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky (“Infinitely Polar Bear”), create and direct one of the most unusual and entertaining comedies of the last few years. There’s not a dull moment in the film as we watch Lewan and his family’s life unfold.  Reportedly, Black, who jumped on this ship before Forbes and Wolodarsky had a single word written, had a hand in bringing Lewan to life on the screen.  This combination of writing talent is the jackpot.

The role of Jan Lewan was made for Black.  After his portrayal of “Bernie” in the film of the same name, Black seems to have a knack for playing unassuming criminals with no malice.  His sense of comedic timing and physical comedy augments his situations with sublime simplicity.  Slate finds a certain rhythm in her role as Lewan’s focused wife, making this odd couple one of the most unusual and entertaining duos to hit the screen.  It’s difficult to think that anyone could be more well-suited to a role than Black as Lewan, but Weaver is simply stellar.  She embodies the all-knowing, suspicious, Mrs. Kravitz-gone-bad relative, never trusting that son-in-law.  She’s scary and hilarious all wrapped into one.

Jackie Weaver at Sundance

“The Polka King” is 95 minutes of complete entertainment, full of unexpected twists in turns that only real life could provide.  It’s a roller coaster of a ride that you don’t want to end that somehow creates sympathy for a sweet man who happens to be a swindler as well.  When you’re not laughing, your jaw is dropped as you just can’t believe what you’re seeing.  And seeing is believing as this is a true story; albeit one that has the comedic genius of Jack Black behind it.

For more about this film, go to an interview with producer David Permut

Check out the trailer of the documentary of Jan Lewan here:

Ridley Scott instantly creates one of the best films of the year with “All the Money in the World”

December 28th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Ridley Scott instantly creates one of the best films of the year with “All the Money in the World””

Ridley Scott, renowned director, has done the impossible in his newest film “All the Money in the World.” He took a film destined to drive audiences away and created a masterpiece that will surely elevate his status in the filmmaking world to levels previously thought unheard of. The film, originally cast with Kevin Spacey as one of the leads, J. Paul Getty, was slated to open December 22. Just weeks before the film’s opening, Spacey was accused of sexual misconduct, creating turmoil for the film and the cast. Scott decided to reshoot much of the film with a newly recast Christopher Plummer as J. Paul Getty. Scott not only did the impossible, he did it to such a level of perfection that it may just win him and his actors a few awards this season.

The story is based on the real-life story of the kidnapping of Paul Getty, J. Paul Getty’s grandson in the 1970’s. Transporting the audience back in time, we meet young Paul, his siblings, and his parents, Gail (Michelle Williams) and John Paul II (Andrew Buchan) who are struggling financially. Quickly, we learn how the richest man in the world could have a son who is unemployed and broke. Reaching out to re-establish a connection—and get a job in his father’s oil company—John Paul Getty II and his family move across the globe and start a new life. Years go by and a special bond is formed between the old miser and his grandson, but Paul’s parents find themselves in opposite corners. John Paul II is a drug addict and Gail divorces him…taking no money. Raising three children on her own, Paul, now a teen, has been kidnapped by one of the most dangerous gangs in Italy. What they don’t realize is that Gail is penniless and J. Paul Getty is one of the most cold-hearted cheapskates in the world.  It’s a harrowing tale of greed, family, and love.

This is Williams’ chance to shine in a film as the strong, independent, intelligent, and loving mother who attempts to find her son and pay for his release. She creates a multi-layered character filled with emotions most of us will thankfully never experience, yet we have such a connection with her and her situation. She drives the film without ever overwhelming any scene. Meeting with Mark Wahlberg’s character, Fletcher Chase, who is her father-in-law’s right hand man, the two must work together to find the truth behind the kidnapping. While this story-line in and of itself is remarkably intriguing, it is Plummer’s portrayal of the coincidentally Scrooge-like character that is simply chilling. He’s a business man with ice-cold gold coursing through his veins, seemingly devoid of the ability to love and have compassion. He’s shrewd and cunning with an edge to his voice that would make any person cower in his presence. His eyes seem almost soul-less as he worships the almighty dollar.

Charlie Plummer’s role of John Paul Getty III is just as captivating as he reels us in with his boyish yet cocky charm and then breaks our hearts as he finds himself struggling to survive and escape his captors. He’s still a boy at heart being used as a pawn for money.

Williams and Charlie Plummer have the on-screen ability to adeptly show that strong bond between a mother and her son. The captors, on the other hand, show us how sickeningly disturbing people can be when driven to such lowly depths. With one kidnapper, Cinquanta (Roman Duris) blurring the lines of loyalty and heart, we see the struggle of humanity and life from a different view point.  His character is one of the most complex as he does possess a moral compass and the ability to have compassion, but there is more to his life that directly conflicts with these attributes.

“All the Money in the World” is a chillingly brutal and spellbinding story about an iconic man and his family in our recent history. Williams and Christopher Plummer have Oscar-worthy performances and not surprisingly, the supporting cast is equally brilliant. Initially, one can’t help but watch the film, trying to find where the cuts have been made and how Christopher Plummer has been placed into this film, but quickly, you are transfixed by the story, forgetting about the reshooting and recasting of Plummer for Spacey. I can’t even imagine anyone but Plummer playing this part.  This could very well be, in this critic’s opinion, the best film Scott has ever directed. It is certainly the bravest and most daring film in his decision to recast Plummer and it might be his smartest one as well…the nominations are just starting to be named. 4 STARS

RHR’s Top Picks of 2017

December 22nd, 2017 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “RHR’s Top Picks of 2017”

2017 has proven to be one of the most controversial and revelatory years in the history of the entertainment industry.  While the Harvey Weinsteins of the film world have been revealed, pulling away the curtain to expose the ugly truths about how men, for decades, have assaulted and harassed women in Hollywood, a healing process has begun for women in every environment.  Men are beginning to see how their actions, perhaps previously thought innocent, are actually hurtful.  There also seems to be the beginnings of comprehension by men of  the mental, emotional, and physical attacks women undergo on a daily basis.   Women are also standing together to speak up in the hopes of making a change for the future—our daughters’ futures and our own.  It’s just the beginning, but a very hopeful one.

2017 just might be the year that women, a minority in the film industry, are recognized for their talents in filmmaking.  As the number of women directors and writers really haven’t changed in the last 5 years, perhaps the voting bodies will begin to open their eyes to finally see the overlooked works of art that we have this year in movies.  2017 has given us a generous number of entertaining blockbusters and heartwarming gems, several of which were spearheaded by women.

It was difficult to choose just 10 top films as I could have easily chosen 30.  Some of these films are chilling dramas and others are light-hearted and whimsical films, but hopefully you’ll find a few that aren’t on the typical film critic’s list.  None of these films were chosen based on who wrote or directed them.  They were based on the tough criteria of, was it a good story told well…the words of Robert Redford still ring loudly and meaningfully to me.  If a woman wrote or directed one of my top films, then that’s just a great bonus for women!


  1. “The Shape of Water” (written and directed by Guillermo del Toro)
  2. “Maudie”  (written by Sherry White, directed by Aisling Walsh)
  3. “I, Tonya” (written by Steven Rogers, directed by Craig Gillespie)
  4. “All the Money in the World” (written by David Scarpa, novel by John Pearson, directed by Ridley Scott)
  5. “Lady Macbeth” (written by Alice Birch, based on the novel by Nikolai Leskov, directed by William Oldroyd)
  6. “Mudbound”  (written by Virgil Williams, Dee Rees, and Hillary Jordan (novel), directed by Dee Rees)
  7. “Lady Bird”  (written and directed by Greta Gerwig)
  8.  “The Post” (written by Liz Hannah and Josh Singer, directed by Steven Spielberg)
  9.  “Brad’s Status” (written and directed by Mike White)
  10. “The Hero” (written by Brett Haley and Marc Basch, directed by Brett Haley)

Honorable Mentions include: “Get Out,” “Wind River,” “Norman,” “Colossal,” “Molly’s Game,” “Call Me By Your Name,” “Wakefield,” “Beatriz at Dinner,” “Battle of the Sexes,” and  “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “Detroit,” “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” and “Their Finest”


  1.  “Faces Places” (written and directed by JR and Agnes Varda)
  2.   “Tickling Giants”  (written and directed by Sara Taksler)
  3.   “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story”  (written and directed by Alexandra Dean)
  4.   “Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution” (written and directed by James Redford)
  5.   “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” (written by Al Gore, directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk)
  6.   “Step”  (directed by Amanda Lipitz)
  7.   “Take My Nose Please”  (directed by Joan Kron)
  8.   “Whose Streets”  (directed by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis)
  9.   “Miracle on 42nd Street”  (written by Joal Ryan and Steve Ryfle, directed by Alice Elliott)
  10.  “42 Grams” (directed by Jack C. Newell)

Honorable Mention:  “It’s Not Yet Dark” and “LA ’92”


  1.  “The Lovers” (written and directed by Azazel Jacobs)
  2. “The Light of the Moon” (written and directed by Jessica M. Thompson)
  3.  “Walking Out” (Written by Alex Smith and Andrew J. Smith, short story by David Quammen, directed Alex Smith and Andrew J. Smith)
  4.   “D-Love” (written by Dave Rogers, directed Elena Beuca)
  5.   “Band Aid” (written and directed by Zoe Lister-Jones)
  6.   “The Big Sick” (written by Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani, directed by Michael Showalter)

Check out the reviews of these films and the many interviews with the talent right here on Reel Honest Reviews!



“I, Tonya” Review: Robbie, Janney pack a powerful punch

December 22nd, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““I, Tonya” Review: Robbie, Janney pack a powerful punch”

They say that truth is stranger than fiction and this is certainly the case in “I, Tonya,” the story of Tonya Harding and her alleged attack on fellow figure skating competitor Nancy Kerrigan.  For those of you who are too young to remember “the incident” or only recall the other event of that era (O.J. Simpson), let me refresh your memory.  Harding, a rough-around-the-edges and talented figure skater was the only woman in the world to successfully complete a triple axel in competition yet she was never consistently winning.  Apparently, she just didn’t fall into the classification of the “girl next door,” the image the U.S. judges wanted as a representative for the Olympics.  Now this is where things get a little dicey.  On January 6, 1994, Harding’s biggest competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, was attacked and injured after practice.   Harding, along with her body guard, Shawn Eckhardt, and ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, were blamed for the attack.  “I, Tonya,” written by Steven Rogers and directed by Craig Gillespie, take this bizarre story and create a captivating and hilarious movie using the truth and the real characters’ own words as a template.  As the opening scene states, “Based on irony free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Tonya Hardy and Jeff Gillooly.”  There is no way anyone could make this stuff up!

Harding (Margot Robbie) talks with us, the audience, in the current day.  Overweight, unkempt, and sitting in her kitchen, she begins to tell us the story of her life, from her perspective.  She takes us back to her upbringing, introducing us to her mother, LaVona Golden (Allison Janney) who makes Joan Crawford in “Mommie Dearest” look like an absolute sweetheart as we see Harding go through the school of hard knocks.    We are transported back to Harding’s childhood at the age of 3, or as LaVona calls it, “a soft 4.”  LaVona is physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive all the while justifying and rationalizing her behavior.  We see the cruelty her mother invokes in every situation—there’s no edit mode and no thought that hitting your daughter repeatedly with a hair brush is wrong.  The verbal abuse and demeaning behavior is used to motivate Tonya to skate better and the depths to which LaVona sinks are unthinkable.  It’s shocking and quite disturbing yet explains Harding’s choices in life.

During this trip down memory lane, we also get to hear from the other characters in the current day and their viewpoint of history, all being very different and punctuating the fact that truth is truly stranger than fiction.  These interviews paired and edited perfectly with flashbacks is a masterful feat in creativity to give us the whole story.

Fast-forwarding to Harding at 16…she meets and falls in love with Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) who rescues her from her mother only to find out that she has gone from the fire to the frying pan.  It’s an ugly cycle that unfolds before our eyes as we watch incredulously.  Figure skating competitions become more important as Harding gets older and the involvement of “body guard” Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser) pushes the story into the realm of craziness.  Hard Copy Journalist (Bobby Canavale) interjects his two cents into the matter, providing a balance of rationale as to what is completely outrageous.  His quotes are shockingly memorable throughout the film such as “We had no idea that something like this could be done by two of the biggest boobs in a story populated solely by boobs,” as well as poking fun at the outlet’s reputation being equivalent to today’s “respected” publications.

For those of us who recall “the incident,” it is simply shocking how each cast member is the embodiment of the actual person.  Robbie is remarkable as Harding from her  awkward late teen period to the younger 20-something woman.  How the make-up and wardrobe people were able to transform this stunningly beautiful woman into Harding is beyond comprehension, but much of it has to do with the subtleties of language that Robbie integrated into her performance.  Her body language lacked refinement and etiquette and her language usage matched that.  Robbie is Harding.  She does much of her own skating in the film, but did need a little help from the computer graphics department to help with that triple axel.  The transformations don’t stop with Robbie.  Janney, with a parrot perched on her shoulder, becomes LaVona.  Janney, a tall, beautiful, refined woman in real life, sheds her skin to become a crass and cruel woman, portraying LaVona with expert skill.  She, like Robbie, utilizes every aspect of acting to become her character.  Sebastian Stan’s performance as Jeff Gillooly  is spot-on with his looks and affect and Paul Walter Hauser could have been Eckhardt’s twin.  I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the talented young actress Mckenna Grace as the young Harding.  Pulling off this character, giving viewers insight to how Harding was hardened, is no easy task for any actress, but to accomplish this at such a young age is extraordinary.  Grace deftly creates a heartbreaking portrayal of youth stripped away of all worth and shows us how her defense mechanism creates violence for survival’s sake.  

“I, Tonya” is a masterpiece in recounting the life and times of Tonya Harding.  Superb casting, excellence in direction, writing, and acting make this one of the top films of the year.  While it’s really a rather sad tale as we see the effects of abuse and how the cycle continues, Rogers’ script and the editing process make this biopic surprisingly hilarious, yet it does not demean the brutality and cyclical effects of abuse.


4/4 Stars


Escape to the Jungle, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” that is

December 19th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Escape to the Jungle, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” that is”

“Jumangi: Welcome to the Jungle” is one of the few reboots of recent years worth seeing as it brings viewers back to a time when a movie could provide laughs, adventure, and total escapism for a couple hours. My kids grew up with me reading the book to them and admittedly, I not only looked forward to the film starring Robin Williams, but I thoroughly enjoyed it as well! Now, my jaded view impacted walking into the theater and seeing this newest version. I had my doubts as sequels and reboots typically are disappointing. Thanks to the creative group of screenwriters, and the incredibly talented director Jake Kasdan, and comedically blessed actors, I was pleasantly surprised! I haven’t been this entertained since the original “Indiana Jones!”

For those of you who don’t recall the ending of the 1995 version of “Jumanji,” let me refresh your memory. Alan Parrish (Williams), the boy who disappeared into the deadly adventure game to slay creatures and save the island of Jumanji, returned to his home, and tossed the game into the ocean. Years passed and the game turned up, shallowly buried on a beach. The drums began to beat. This is where our newest version picks up. A boy in the year 1996 finds the game, opens it, and while board games are passe, the game is now a video game. Again, we hear the ominous drums begin to beat their deadly rhythm and Alex (Nick Jonas) is sucked into the abyss of Jumanji. Fast forward to the present day and 4 unlikely kids are being held in detention only to discover this long-forgotten video game. As a diversion to their mundane task at hand, the four begin to play. Now they find themselves in Jumanji as the characters or Avatars they have chosen. This is where the fun, humor, and excitement for them and the audience begins.

The premise of the game remains the same. The players must go through levels or challenges in order to complete the game and return to their lives. “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” finds a way to be different in its ability to incorporate CGI, making us jump and gasp while we watch events unfold. And where this film stands out is in the characters’ transformation into the game’s characters. We see a skinny nerd, Young Spencer played by Alex Wolff, transform into Bravestone, Dwayne Johnson. (I’ll let your imagination do the work now.) The crazy and hilarious transformations continue with Young Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), the buff football player becoming Mouse Finbar, a zoologist played by the comedic and the comparatively diminutive actor Kevin Hart. To round out the shocking transformations, the gorgeous popular girl, Bethany (Madison Iseman) turns into a middle-aged, overweight, scruffy paleontologist portrayed by Jack Black. Only Black could take this gorgeous yet self-centered phone-toting “it” girl and continue her persona making us believe that he is actually Bethany! From discovering how easy it is to pee in the woods to teaching Martha (Karen Gillan) the art of flirting, Black makes every situation laugh-out-loud funny. Every one of these actors has great comedic timing and the ability to do physical comedy—The Rock’s (Johnson) facial expressions alone make you smile and laugh—put all of these actors together and it’s absolute magic.

With “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” there’s never a dull moment as the group attempts to figure out clues, rise to the next level, battle strange beast, get eaten alive, and then drop from the sky to continue their next adventure. The CGI scenes are sometimes shockingly violent, but knowing that it’s all part of the game and that they have 3 lives to use, makes it less gruesome. Although, seeing the evil nemesis Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) with long multiple legged bugs crawling in and out of his ears and mouth might have been the most disturbing visual effect in the film!

Each of the characters are given special skills, some are there purely for the comedy such as Fridge’s reaction or weakness to “cake eating,” others are there to move the story forward and allow the group to work together as a team. The kids all have their own strengths which they allow to rise up and help in certain situations such as Spencer’s knowledge of video gaming and the Fridge’s knowledge of football offensive and defensive tactics. Life lessons are learned as they band and bond together, but never do any of the characters lose their adolescent charm and innocence in these scenes. Seeing the Rock’s version of Spencer’s inadequacies and insecurities is at once sweet and hilarious. First love and first kisses are equally entertaining as are a few reactions to their first margaritas. All of this combines beautifully for a fast-paced, funny, touching, adventure film.

Never did I dream I would be excited to recommend a reboot of a film, let alone “Jumanji.” Escape to the jungle and enjoy a couple hours of laughing, gasping, and most importantly,total escapism from this crazy time of year.

3 1/2 Stars

*This is rated PG-13 for a reason. Please be advised that some of the “deaths” are scary and there is a little bad language and drinking.

“The Silent Child” Shortlisted for Oscar Consideration

December 18th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Silent Child” Shortlisted for Oscar Consideration”

Walking in another person’s shoes is nearly impossible until you are graced with the ability to see Rachel Shenton’s film “The Silent Child.” Directed by Chris Overton, Libby (Maisie Sly) is a deaf child, the youngest of three in a typical family, busy and pulled in many different directions. There’s  little time for young Libby who will be attending school soon.   A tutor, Joanne (Shenton), has been hired to help her get ready for school.  The story takes us inside Libby’s world as Joanne unlocks the doors of communication, yet outside influences make this film heartbreakingly real.

Gorgeously shot, we are brought into this family’s world as we meet Joanne riding her bike along country roads to her new job—tutoring Libby.  Familiar chaos is taking place at the breakfast table as everyone readies for their hectic day.  Joanne is thrust into the situation as she meets Libby who is not only non-communicative, she avoids any interaction at all.  It’s as if she is just existing in time and space and nothing more.  Sue (Rachel Fielding), Libby’s mother, reassures Joanne of Libby’s ability to follow everything using lip reading.  Now, this is where the filmmakers give us just a taste of Libby’s world as we see things from her silent and confusing perspective.  Joanne then skillfully assesses the situation and begins to teach Libby sign language.  As Libby begins to understand the world around her, the two are connected, reaffirming the necessity of communication.  Sign language unlocks the solid doors that Libby has been kept behind and now her world has been opened.  She begins to play, laugh, request things and share her thoughts with Joanne and her older siblings—all the things we take for granted.  The guilt and self-protection we see in Sue is disturbing, yet understandable but begins to interfere with Libby’s progress.  Quickly, we see how important this missing piece of the puzzle is for Libby in order to grow and learn, but without support, she will never reach her potential.

This short film conveys more heart and emotion than many full-length feature films.  To understand a situation from someone else’s perspective elicits empathy and once this is established, anything is possible.  “The Silent Child” powerfully places Libby’s shoes on us and creates heartbreaking empathy.  Sly’s performance is haunting as we witness her coming to life and then watching disappointment wash over her like a dark cloud through which no rays of sunshine will ever break.  We feel her pain and know what the future holds as our heart also breaks for Joanne, played expertly by Shenton.  This vital and pivotal role in Libby’s life accentuates the importance of connections that occur.   With stunning cinematography and the deft direction of Overton, it’s no wonder this film has won numerous festival awards.

“The Silent Child” brings into focus what it is like for a child who is deaf.  We are able to be a part of her world and walk in her shoes if only for a moment as we redefine the importance of communication and language as powerful components in life, learning, and happiness.   It’s a heartbreaking tale that unfortunately is not far from reality and an every day occurrence.

For more information about how to help a child with a hearing impairment, go to  As a former speech-language pathologist, I worked with children ages 0-3 who were hearing impaired.   This film is a poignant demonstration for the need for support and education in this area.

Michael Stuhlbarg talks about his remarkable role in “Call Me By Your Name”

December 15th, 2017 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “Michael Stuhlbarg talks about his remarkable role in “Call Me By Your Name””

“Call Me By Your Name” seemed a sure-fire Oscar contender when I saw it months ago. Beginning the festival circuit at Sundance Film Festival back in January, the film received rave reviews. Now, almost one year later, the film is winning major film critic awards including Best Film and Best Director from the LA Film Critics Circle and numerous acting awards and nominations for its stars Timothee Chalamet, Armie Hammer, and Michael Stuhlbarg.

The film is an daringly bold and honest coming of age film about a 17 year-old boy, Elio (Chalamet) who is trying to find his identity back in the 1980’s. His family summers in Italy as his father is a professor of history, researching during this time period. When Oliver (Armie Hammer), the new college research assistant arrives, Elio’s sexual emotions are awakened and with a new-found flurry of thoughts, feelings and desires, he finds himself confused and struggling with his first love.

The cinematically stunning film boldly addresses the powerfully intense emotions that occur in a young boy and how his family perceives his situation from the outside. I had the honor of sitting down and talking with Michael Stuhlbarg who portrays Elio’s father, Mr. Perlman, to discuss his career path, his own father’s influence upon his role, and how he hopes viewers will see this film.

Pamela Powell (PP): Your theater, television, and film credits are simply remarkable and you seem to have found a springboard recently to make a recognizable name for yourself with this film, “The Post,” and “The Shape of Water.” Can you tell me about your path?

Michael Stuhlbarg (MS): The drive to do this kind of work with my life, I don’t really thoroughly understand where it comes from. I’ve been doing it since I was 11 years old. non prof until 1989… I’ve always loved storytelling, I’ve loved making people laugh and think and feel. And I stand on the shoulders of giants, really, whether it’s been my father or professors or teachers I’ve had who gave me confidence or encouraged me or taught me something that was important. We all are on the shoulders of others who took an interest in us. Saw something in us perhaps a passion or a love or a talent and made us feel like we could perform miracles, otherwise we wouldn’t be here… certainly wouldn’t be here without the people who influenced me in my life. And with each opportunity you’re given, you hope that you gain a little more confidence about what you’re capable of, with each job, it’s like starting all over again, honestly. I never know what tools are going to be necessary for a new job and there’s always a great sense of insecurity and anxiety about will I be able to fulfill what’s being asked of me… So you just have to trust your collaborators, you trust your director, and they also have tremendous influence on you as well.

PP: This particular role of Elio’s father is one of compassion and understanding like I’ve never seen in a film. Tell me about preparing for this role, learning Italian and Greek history.

MS: In this case, I’m a Greek scholar who has an interest in history and art history…I met with a couple classics professors, talked to them about what it’s like to stand in front of a room and talk about encouraging students to know their latin and about coming off like you could speak italian. I took some [Italian] lessons in NY before I left. My tutor was from the South of Italy and then I learned that when I arrived [in Northern Italy] that the dialect and the meanings of some things are different than they are down south!

I loved what Luka said during the rehearsal process… He wanted this whole experience for the audience to be one of light, one of love, one of buoyancy. That idyllic summer that we may have been lucky enough to have had in our youth where we fell in love for the first time or we met someone we adored or we experienced something that just maybe encouraged us to take a particular path in our lives.

These are all great challenges and I think it’s a really good thing when you’re terrified at the beginning process. In some ways it puts a fire under you to do the best work that you can because you don’t want to be the one who doesn’t fulfill what the script is providing. Basically, you don’t want to screw up. So there’s always a fire there to always do the best I can. I guess you’re given a script, you mine it for what you’re responsible for and you do your best to learn all that you can so that you don’t have to think about it on the day that you’re shooting it. You just let it go, you let it fly.

PP: And it most certainly did fly! That final speech was extraordinarily moving. Was your relationship with your father an influence upon your performance?

There was a significant pause in Stuhlbarg’s response as I could see that perhaps this was a very emotional topic for him. As he took a deep breath, his eyes closed, he turned and looked at me and with a strong yet sombre voice said:

MS: My father was a wonderful man. He had a gravity about him and a wonderful sense of humor and he often said to me let’s solve the problems of the world. So I had an amazing example for a father in my life and I thought about him often, of course, in the making of the film. I think had the circumstances of my life had been similar to what Elio was going through, I imagined he would have been as compassionate and as open and as loving as Professor Perlman is to Elio. I feel like the luckiest kid in the world to have had such an example of wonderful parents, mother and father, to have encouraged me and have been open to anything that came into my life. So I feel like it rested and lived in a very natural part of who I am. I feel their blood in my blood and i feel like I had the kind of empathy that Professor Perlman has that I was blessed to have in my life.

PP: Thank you for answering that with such honesty and candor. I hadn’t realized your father had passed away…What do you hope viewers will take away from this film?

MS: I hope they just go along for the ride…and also that they will perhaps see an example in what I get to say of a beautiful sort of view into the difficult balancing act that is parenting which is compassion and love and trust, but also providing a sense of a rock from which a child could feel grounded in the world. I think in this instance, in the speech you mention, Professor Perlman gets to offer aspects of perhaps his own experience in a round about way to Elio that he hopes will allow his son to find some comfort in the pain that he is feeling. So perhaps the audience sill take away a relationship of compassion and of absolute love and the advice or the words that are offered are coming from a place of experience and generosity and for him not to push away the pain that he is feeling because and how wonderful it is that he’s feeling what he’s feeling because those feelings are rare.

“Call Me By Your Name” opens in theaters in Chicago December 15 and will expand nationally in the weeks to follow.

CFCA Announces Winners

December 13th, 2017 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “CFCA Announces Winners”


The Chicago film Critics Association gathered last night to announce and celebrate the award winners from the amazing slate of films from 2017.  Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” was the big winner, taking home 4 wins after being nominated in 6 different categories.  The film received the coveted Best Picture Award along with Best Actress-Saiorse Ronan, Best Supporting Actress-Laurie Metcalf, and Most Promising Filmmaker-Greta Gerwig.

“Call Me By Your Name” was a close second with 3 wins:  Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor-Timothee Chalamet, and Most Promising Performer-Timothee Chalamet.

“Blade Runner 2049” won two awards, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction.

The remaining award winners are:

Best Director- Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk”)

Best Supporting Actor- Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”)

Best Original Screenplay- Jordan Peele (“Get Out”)

Best Original Score-Johnny Greenwood (“The Phantom Thread”)

Best Editing- Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss (“Baby Driver”)

Best Foreign Film- “The Square”

Best Animated Feature-“Coco”

Best Documentary Feature-“Jane”

While the L.A. Film Critics Circle gave the Best Picture award to “Call Me By Your Name,” and both Chicago and N.Y. found “Lady Bird” deserving of that title, it will be interesting to see if  this is a predictor of what will happen on Oscar night.  Only time will tell!  Perhaps it is the beginning of women being recognized in the director’s chair after all!

Another “Star Wars” installment

December 12th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Another “Star Wars” installment”

We see the familiar words scroll up the screen, stars in the background and notes of a recognizable tune blast indicating that the saga of The Empire versus The Rebellion  is about to begin. The prologue of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” aka Episode VIII,catches you up a bit, but not enough, to recall where we are in the story and as soon as we see the new characters we have quickly grown to love and the old ones we hold dear, appear on the screen, we are immediately pulled back into that galaxy far, far away. If only the trip wasn’t so long!

We pick right up where “The Force Awakens” left off …Rey (Daisy Ridley) finds Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) on a remote island, asking him to come back with her as he is the Rebellion’s only hope. Meanwhile, back on the Rebellion’s planet, an attack is becoming evident from the 1st order, lead by General Hux (Domhnall Gleason), under Supreme Leader Snoke’s (Andy Serkis) direction and Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) lurking approval. The onslaught of explosions, zipping Tie Fighters and X Wing air crafts dodging blasts, and heroes meeting their fate begins in full force. Fin (John Boyega), our newest hero, is awakened and Poe (Oscar Isaac), the blast-happy fly boy who ignores Princess Leia’s (Carrie Fisher) orders, recklessly attempts to be the solar system cowboy and save everyone.

For fair weather fans of the original film and all of its many, many sequels and prequels as well as prequel’s prequels, it would be beneficial to rewatch “The Force Awakens,” or at least read a synopsis of the film as the “who’s who” and who’s related to whom can easily be confused. That being said, the premise of this sequel is to save the Rebellion from certain destruction by the Imperial Forces and rebuild. Rey, Fin, and Poe along with his trusty side-kick BB8, are the team to give it their best shot fighting the evil, dark forces of Kylo Ren, Snoke, and Hux.

The haunting needs of Rey to find her parents while also becoming a Jedi awakens The Force within her as she seeks guidance from Skywalker. He resists teaching her the ways of a Jedi as his last attempt turned out to be a bit of a failure aka Kylo Ren. The connection between Ren and Rey builds as we see the strong, yet blurred lines of good and evil. We also find our own connections to all the old, familiar characters such as R2D2, C3PO, Yoda and more.

The story builds on new characters  who add a bit of zip and spice to the film as we meet and get to know Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran), DJ (Benecio Del Toro) and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo (Laura Dern). Like “The Force Awakens,” an effort was made to have a plot line that had strong female leads and this sequel continues to bring women to the forefront. Fisher steps up to the commanding leader’s position, but her real life tragedy seems to cast a constant shadow on her performance. Ridley remains just as strong, smart, and brave in this version, but it is Tran’s character that shines with personality. She’s exudes humor and timing that engage the viewer as we anticipate seeing her in another scene. Dern, of course, has a strength and wisdom about her character that radiates confidence, allowing us to trust in her character.

Driver as Kylo Ren, has stepped up his game and has a standout performance. His portrayal of the betrayed son of Han and Leia is evident in every interaction as we see his conflicted thoughts surface to his impulsive outbursts. Hamill finds his inner-Luke and gives us exactly what we need and expect from him. Gleason’s talent is immeasurable as he can fluidly transform himself from portraying the “Winnie the Pooh” author, A. A. Milne in “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” to an evil and frustrated understudy to Ren. He can almost elicit sympathy for his situation as he just can’t seem to get ahead in the bad guy game. And then we have Isaac and Boyega who pull their weight, but don’t have the personality we saw in “The Force Awakens.”

While this sequel keeps the saga alive, and I give great credit for the strong female and minority leads, the story is just way too familiar and repetitive. Initially, humor was interjected, making me laugh out loud, but that concept must have been sucked up into a black hole as the laughs quickly disappeared. And with up to 4 different sub-story lines taking place at the same time, you were constantly being shifted from excitement to dramatic conversations. And at a running time of 152 minutes, familiarity and non-stop blasting explosions paired with jarring storyline transitions creates disinterest.

Where the film truly shines is in the CGI and make-up departments; both absolutely stunning and mesmerizing. Serkis, once again, is completely unrecognizable as “Snoke.” His off-set eyes, creviced forehead, pocketed cheeks showing bones, tendons, and muscles are all wonderfully distracting. Of course, the film has a “party” scene, as it always does, to showcase bizarre creatures and this time it’s in a casino. And let’s not forget the Puffin-like bird creature that will be showing up on every toy shelf just in time for Christmas. Yes, it’s adorable and it’s Chewbacca’s sidekick. Need I say more?

So here’s the skinny on this 2 hour and 32 minute Star Wars sequel, “The Last Jedi.” If you’re a fan, you’re going to appreciate the story continuing (on and on). If you’re into make up and CGI, you’ll appreciate every minute of it. If you haven’t loved the sequels recently, avoid those comfy recliner seats for obvious reasons.

“The Shape of Water” A cinematically beautiful love story

December 8th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Shape of Water” A cinematically beautiful love story”

“The Shape of Water” is one of those movies that moves you from within as it stimulates every sensory system, blending the beauty of fantasy with the aversions of humanity and history.  Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor write this deeply moving film that delves into what it means to love, accept and be compassionate, no matter the consequences.

Sally Hawkins portrays Elisa Esposito, a mute cleaning woman at an experimental government facility with co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) who stumbles upon a creature which is undergoing brutal exploration by a team of researchers lead by Dr. Robert Hofstettler (Michael Stuhlbarg) and supervised by the demented and cruel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon).  As Elisa connects with this creature, communicating with him and eventually falling in love, she must somehow save him from certain death.

This is a fantastical film taking place in the era of the Cold War, and the opening scene sets the tone, giving us many clues as we hear Elisa’s quirky and caring neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), narrate the beginning.  The viewer is exploring an underwater home as Giles tells the viewer he is unsure of how to tell this story about the princess without a voice and a “monster that tried to destroy it all.”  While it may seem possible at this point, that this is a horror story, and there are horrific events that take place, it is truly a story about love and loss, as Giles says.

The serene feeling of the opening scene is transferred to the reality of Elisa’s apartment where her daily routine begins.  Nothing seems out of the ordinary as she readies for her job, but the brush of a hand over the scars on her neck indicate there’s an unknown previous tragedy.  On her way out the door, she walks down the hall, checking in on Giles.  Their sweet bond is immediately evident as they chat and fondly recall beautiful musicals on television.  When Elisa gets to work, we meet the characters that will forever change her life and in turn, she will change theirs.

The balance in this story is immediately evident when we meet Strickland.  He’s inhumane, self-righteous, and controlling.  He is the polar opposite of Elisa who embodies humility, compassion, and love.  Elisa’s inadvertent discovery of the creature is simply beautiful while Strickland’s interactions with him is unsettling and in many cases simply disturbing.  With Dr. Hofstettler obeying orders against his will and better judgment, we learn that he has a story of his own to tell.  And eventually, his story and Elisa’s intertwine.

While the story itself is remarkable, memorable, and meaningful, it is the way in which it is told visually that makes it stand out even more.  There film even pays homage to old, classic films and musicals.   The set design and careful use of a single color palate not only brings you back into the 1950’s, it also creates a certain mood and accentuates the sea.  There’s a certain comfort in the surroundings of Elisa’s apartment, reassuring you that there can be a happy ending.  But again, like the characters, the settings are in polar opposition as well.  The government lab is cold, harsh, and unsettling, reminding you that there are evils in this world that we may not overcome.

With such attention to detail, del Toro continued this with the music, sometime whimsical, sometimes daunting, but always coordinating with what we are experiencing.  del Toro’s expert direction of this characters is equally perfect.    Shannon seems to naturally embody that chilling effect and Stuhlbarg can perform any role.  As Dr. Hofstettler, his meek and mild manner draws us to him, and as his character is revealed, we are on his side no matter what.  And Spencer has played this type of role a thousand times, but it never gets old…she’s the best friend, the smart and bold friend who is loyal to the end.

It is Hawkins and Jenkins that truly shine in this film, pushing their skills as an actor to the next level.  As an actress who utters not a single word, Hawkins give an extraordinarily profound performance.  She creates an essence of beauty, from the inside out, as we understand her longing to be loved.  She’s strong and capable and oftentimes misunderstood, but her moral grounds are always high.  The compassion she shows for not only Giles, but the creature is breathtakingly beautiful.  We feel her connection to the creature grow and we become her for a moment, taking in the feeling of true love.

del Toro brilliantly creates rich and layered characters while addressing issues that still are in the headlines today.  Acceptance, tolerance, and understanding of those who may look different is one such topic.  Communication is yet another as Elisa shows us the importance of this.  And Giles, very similar in many ways to Elisa, has his own issues  to cope with and we see his regret and wish for a different time…a more open and accepting time.

“The Shape of Water” is an amalgam of a thriller, espionage, horror, and love story in the context of fantasy and reality.  The ending will begin a conversation and upon a second (or even third) viewing, you will pick up on subtleties that will make this film an even more powerful one.  It’s a film that has a lasting impression, full of beautiful images, hope, love, and most importantly compassion and understanding.

4/4 Stars

“Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution” gives us hope for the future

November 30th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution” gives us hope for the future”

The environment has been a topic of interest (and concern) since I was a child back in the 1960’s.  From Woodsy the Owl’s campaign, “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” to Smokey the Bear’s “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires” there was some spark within me that pushed me to appreciate, learn, and care about nature.  But now, in today’s global meltdown, literally, the environmental issues are staring us in the face.  No crystal ball is needed to see our future as we are seeing the effects of climate change all over the world.  From devastating and unprecedented storms ravaging many parts of the world including the U.S. recently to drought and famine creating a refugee crisis in Somalia, Syria, and Sudan, the future is a scary place.  Is it too late?  What difference will it make if I walk to the grocery store instead of driving?  What can I do?  I’m just one person.

As a film critic, I am drawn to documentaries and even a few narrative feature films that address the topic of climate change and the environment, but in so doing, it can leave me feeling overwhelmed and helpless.  Recently, Josh Fox’s documentary, the title almost as long as the film, “How To Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change,” at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival created such anxiety in me that I wanted to curl up into a fetal position or go have a couple martinis.  I chose the latter.  This was followed by Jared P. Scott’s film “The Age of Consequences” and Al Gore’s sequel in 2017, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” a little shorter title, but just as impactful.  The difference in the message of Gore’s film is hope.  There is hope.  And Jamie Redford’s newest documentary, “Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution” is more than hopeful, it is inspiring and brings the topic back to  the people accentuating that it is in our control.

Redford makes this film a personal journey, one in which we are invited along.  His lack of pretense and knowledge of renewable energy connects us to him, allowing us to identify with him and his motivation to learn more and bring that information to the forefront.   His daughter, just like my 20-something daughter would do, humorously refused to embark upon the adventure across the country to learn about the great strides and action our own states are taking in creating green, clean energy.  Redford does find company along the way as he meets and interviews high level military officers, government officials, energy experts, corporate leaders and regular citizens.

Redford starts that the very beginning—his own family and surprisingly, their connections to oil companies. We then see how his own very famous father and his mother set about a very different path.   But Jamie Redford’s  knowledge about energy  wasn’t something that was inherently known to him.  He does drive everywhere and as he admits, he’s not ever been into efficiency, comparing his preference of working out more instead of having less ice cream.  Sounds reasonable to me.  His knowledge base and lifestyle isn’t that much different from you and me and we learn with him on his adventure across America.

Have you ever really thought about where our electricity comes from?  Redford hadn’t either and talking with energy expert Matthew Nordan, Redford learns how to trace the lines of his own electricity to its source.  As with any puzzle in life, the more your discover, the more you realize you need to learn.  His journey to find the answers to more and more questions takes him to Texas where he meets a very conservative Republican mayor of Georgetown, TX   who sees the big picture of the benefits for his community in investing in and supporting renewable energy.  We then travel to Oregon, meet with Apple to learn about their 100% renewable energy commitment to every store, office, and storage facility, and then, very unexpectedly, we end up in Buffalo, NY—the new center for the solar industry.   Growing up just south of Buffalo, where I don’t recall many sunny days, this was simply shocking.  If Buffalo can do this, why isn’t every city!

Each and every  stop and encounter Redford has, including talking with activist and actor Mark Ruffalo and the Navy who makes their own energy, is simply uplifting.  From Nevada where the politics of big monopolies and government attempted to thwart the people’s efforts to go green to the fight they fought to protect not only their rights but the future of our world indicate that the people are speaking.  Redford finds that we are on our way to using clean energy.  He even went to the effort to evaluate his home, install solar panels (, and (are you ready for this one?) turn down his water heater two degrees.  Sometimes it’s the little things that matter.

Never before have I finished watching a film about our environment and its future and felt energized and positive.  There’s a first for everything!  “Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution” gives us an easy to follow lesson in electricity production, delivery, and how renewables are being seamlessly  integrated.  While our current political leaders may be denying  climate change, the people of this country recognize its validity and  that we can do something now.  As one woman said, “If Washington will not, we will.”  This documentary is as educational as it is inspiring.  Maybe that crystal ball isn’t as clear as I thought because  I now have hope.

The film will premiere on December 11 at 8 pm on HBO.

For more information about the film, go to


“Mercury in Retrograde” deeply reflective study of relationships, trauma

November 28th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Mercury in Retrograde” deeply reflective study of relationships, trauma”

Three young couples, all at different stages of their relationships venture out of the confines of the Windy City to vacation in the deep woods of Michigan in Michael Glover Smith’s sophomore feature film “Mercury in Retrograde.”  The secrets that are buried deep within each of these characters are slowly uncovered as they reach for a branch to save themselves from revealing their true humanity.  It’s a brilliantly nuanced film that seeps into your very soul, staying with you long after the credits roll.

All but Peggy (Najarra Townsend) have known one another for a long time.  Her relationship with Wyatt (Shane Simmons) is new and fresh while Golda (Alana Arenas) and Jack (Jack C. Newell) have been married for 10 years.  It is quickly evident that Isabelle (Roxane Mequida) and Richard (Kevin Wehby) are in a troubled 5-year relationship.  As the couples sit around getting to know one another while Peggy reads everyone’s horoscope, the camera, always moving, allows us to see the reactions of each recipient of their horoscope, bringing us into the circle to be a part of this intimate group.

Each and every character is uniquely different and as we get to know them, we understand their personalities and reactions.  Jack’s lightheartedness with Golda’s gentle and caring nature is juxtaposed against Isabelle and Richard selfishness.  Wyatt is struggling to find himself, leaning on his guy friends for advice and guidance, but it is  Peggy who reveals pieces of her emotional puzzle in seemingly benign ways that leaves you wanting to know what truly lies beneath the surface.

The film dissects human communication and the insecurities that we all have, especially when we are in a relationship.  The individual characters all have secrets which get in the way of connecting and progressing, particularly with the women.  Cutting remarks spewed out with hurtful honesty masqueraded by humor reveal Isabelle’s true character as well as Golda’s resilience.  But much of what we see is from Peggy’s perspective as her narration allows us inside her thoughts, creating beautiful imagery and an understanding of her emotional state.

Interestingly, during many conversations, we are not seeing who is talking, but we are witnessing the group member’s reactions to what they hear.  This camera technique gives the viewer not only a different perspective, but a better understanding of who these characters are.  Pairing all of this with stylistic editing gives “Mercury in Retrograde” such deep insight,  bringing you, the viewer into the group to experience every thought, emotion, and reaction.

To gain this perspective, Smith utilizes his intuitive ability to create diverse and realistic conversations.  He eloquently weaves difficult subject matter into each scene, but the topic never feels overpowering.  It’s a delicate balance as discussions dig more deeply into who these people truly are.  Their individual histories add to their baggage, weighing more heavily as the weekend progresses.  This gorgeous portrayal of humanity at a young stage in life couldn’t be more sincere.

Finding the right cast to give such genuine performances could not have been an easy task, but Smith does exactly that.  Townsend creates Peggy with such precision as she peels away the layers of her personality, background, and eventually her truth.  We are immediately connected to her as she wants to fit into this new group of friends and get to know her new boyfriend.  But it is her final scene that leaves you breathless, completely understanding what she  subtly eluded to in previous scenes.

Equally powerful in her performance is Arenas.  There’s such beauty and honesty in her portrayal of Golda,  understatedly captivating in every scene and naturally balancing herself with Jack who portrays her husband.  Newell gives Jack the bit of levity needed as he almost appears as a guiding force, more mature than his buddies, but respectful of their situations.  The eventual inebriated interaction among the men while discussing the book ‘The Glass Key’ by Dahiell Hammet, allows us to see the inner workings of all of them.

What begins as a casual, fun weekend in a cabin in the woods, turns out to be revelatory for all of the characters.  Smith’s brilliant ability to create meaningful dialogue and use of foreshadowing as well as the casts’ skillful depiction of their characters makes “Mercury in Retrograde” a gorgeous, relatable, and realistic study about love, life, and understanding.


“The Disaster Artist” Breakout film and performances give meaning to “The Room”

November 27th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Disaster Artist” Breakout film and performances give meaning to “The Room””

How can Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room” become such a cult favorite?  That question will never be apparent to me, but the new film directed by and starring James Franco, “The Disaster Artist,” captures the hilarity and ridiculousness with impeccable precision.  Seeing “The Room” or at least most of it (I never made it all the way through after three attempts) is a must before seeing “The Disaster Artist.”  Hate “The Room” or love it, Franco’s reenactment of how this film was born and who the actors are, what they went through, and the inside scoop from every angle makes this a breakout film of the year.

Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber adapt the book  “The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, The Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made” by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell.  The all-star cast couldn’t more accurately portray and seemingly become the main characters, Tommy (James Franco), Greg (Dave Franco), Juliette (Ari Graynor), Carolyn, the mother (Jacki Weaver), and Dan (Zac Efron).  In addition, the behind the scenes actors are just as high profile including Alison Brie, Josh Hutcherson, Megan Mullally, Seth Rogan, and many, many more.  It’s obvious that the cult following must include all of these huge names in Hollywood as each of them truly shine in their respective roles.

The film has an actual story-line and narrative arc, unlike what I saw in “The Room.”  We meet Tommy (James Franco) and Greg (Dave Franco), both struggling actors who connect in a hilarious acting class lead by none other than Brett Gelman.  Greg’s admiration for this bizarre classmate and his lack of inhibitions connect the two and they move to L.A. together in search of making it big.  As they get to know each other,  Tommy’s exceedingly strange behavior, at times mimicking someone who has had brain trauma, lands him as an outcast in L.A.  With an limitless bank account from who knows where and how, Tommy writes a screenplay and casts his best friend Greg in the film.  The two embark upon what would be forever loved, for unknown reasons, as “The Room.”

“The Disaster Artist” is an unexpectedly funny and meaningful film as there is insight and discovery about a man who only wants to be loved…no matter how much it costs him.  He has found a friend in Greg and to Tommy, that is priceless, but he doesn’t understand relationships and basic interactions which causes more than hurt feelings.  James Franco’s portrayal of Tommy gives this unusual man depth and allows us to see the world from his very skewed viewpoint.

It’s also wonderfully entertaining and at times petrifying to see how the filming of “The Room”  took place.  Rogan as the cameraman Sandy Schklair states the obvious in many situations accentuating the unmistakable errors in filmmaking and ironically idiotic situations at hand.  As Tommy becomes volatile, hostile, and unpredictable, the cast and crew band together, seeing with their own eyes a film that will never be seen…or so they hoped.

“The Disaster Artist” is an unexpected treasure, making you laugh out loud constantly while feeling guilty for doing so as the main character obviously is misunderstood, bordering on pathetic at times, and has some issues that perhaps have never been identified.  There’s a certain sadness as you find the main point of the film is friendship and a longing to belong without an ability of how to do this.  It’s quite obvious that all of the cast of Franco’s film love what they were doing as the performances are captivating and eerily accurate when looking at scenes from the original film.  Speaking of, be sure to stick around for the credits where side by side scenes are shown from both films.  This, is just the icing on the proverbial cake and allows you to see what I have just described.

There’s not a weak link in this film with great acting and impersonations, remarkable direction, and  writing that takes a stranger than fiction story and brings it to living color.  Will the real Tommy Wiseau be able to handle what this film shows as he is somehow made an inadvertent comedic success from “The Room?”

Get ready for one of the most fun films of 2017, but remember, you really need to see (at least part of) “The Room” before you go.

3 1/2 Stars (4 possible) (only if you’ve seen “The Room”)

4th Annual Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival Nov. 28-Dec. 1

November 24th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on “4th Annual Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival Nov. 28-Dec. 1”

The 4th annual Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival opens its doors to the community for free on Tuesday, November 28 through Friday, December 1 at Oakton Community College, Footlik Theatre, 1600 E. Golf Road in Des Plaines. 3 full-length feature films and 3 short films will be screened as a part of this festival, funded by the College Education Foundation. All of the films’ directors and several actors will be on-hand to participate in the question and answer sessions following the films.

The festival’s founder, Michael Glover Smith, an accomplished author, film critic, filmmaker, and professor of film at Oakton Community College, created this event in order to give not just students but the entire community access to seeing independent films on the big screen. The films chosen are found by attending festivals and contacting respected local filmmakers. Smith shared that there are no specific guidelines used in choosing films for the fest, but as he said, “The only common denominators are that I want the movies to be exciting, challenging and fun….and that will leave the audience buzzing.”

This year, the program includes Jennifer Reeder’s film “Signature Move” opening the festival on Tuesday, Nov. 28 at 2 pm. This rom-com tackles gender identification and relationships while digging deeply into family dynamics and pressures. On Wednesday, Nov. 29 at 12:30 pm, viewers will see Gabe Klinger’s “poetic and haunting ‘puzzle film,’” “Porto” starring Anton Yelchin in one of his final films before his untimely death.  Larry Knapp, “…a great film scholar and author” will be moderating a discussion with Klinger which, as Smith said, “…should make for a provocative Q&A.”

On Thursday, Nov. 30 at 2 pm, the third and final feature film, award-winning “Mercury In Retrograde” written and directed by Smith, will will be screened. This insightful and pensively beautiful drama has only been publicly shown once before, garnering praises of festival audiences and critics.  Smith is excited that five of the actors, Najarra Townsend, Alana Arenas, Jack C. Newell, Shane Simmons, and Kevin Wehby, will all be reunited to talk about the making of this “character-driven” film.  He hopes that viewers will be able to relate to the topic matter “…even if we go to some emotional places that might be dark and intense.”

And finally, on December 1 at 12:30 pm the shorts program entitled “Women in Danger” will be shown. When questioned about the title and the shorts, Smith said, “I noticed that some of the films seemed to address some of the same themes—that they seemed to be almost speaking to each other in a way.” Clare Cooney’s “Runner” which Matt Fagerholm from Indie-Outlook calls “…one of the best short films I’ve seen, not to mention a timely one” is about a woman who witnesses a violent incident while jogging in Chicago. Smith described Sadie Rogers’ “Chip V2”  as being “…about two sisters trying to survive in a post-alien attack wasteland, and “An Atramentous Mind” by Lonnie Edwards and Layne Marie Williams deals with police brutality and racism…” While they are all very different styles of films, Smith felt that they all had a common denominator of young women “…trying to navigate public spaces while fearing for their safety.” In addition, all of these films are either directed or co-directed by women.

Smith has seen the cinematic environment change over the years while embracing and highlighting the merits of independent films and filmmaking. The Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival is one such way to encourage others see the beauty and quality of independent films.  He said, “I’d like to see a real shift in the culture where the idea of young people going to see a microbudget indie on the big screen…will seem reasonable.” Check out the films and support independent filmmaking by attending the FREE Oakton Pop-Up Film Festival November 28- December 1. For more information, go to



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