Posts by pamela

“3100: Run and Become” Opens at the Siskel Film Center Sept. 21

September 20th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““3100: Run and Become” Opens at the Siskel Film Center Sept. 21”

“3100: Run and Become” documents the annual Sri Chamnoy Self Transcendence 3100 mile road race, focusing on champion runner Helsinki native Ashprihanal Aalto. Delving into this extreme athlete and the eleven other competitors, documentary filmmaker Sanjay Rawal (“Food Chains”) allows viewers into the history and actual need for running in our quest for humanity and connection.

Completing a 5k race for many of us is a feat, but what about a 3100 mile race? If this sounds extreme, you’re right, but for a dozen individuals, it connects them more directly and completely to themselves and their spirit to live a more meaningful life. The race takes place in the heat of New York City’s summer months as 12 racers from all over the world run a ½ mile city block for 3 weeks.  Runners complete an average of 60 miles per day in the hopes of finishing, but a few hope to win. 8-time champion Ashprihanal Aalto, a spiritual name given to him by the founder of the race meaning “aspiration fire inside the heart,” through interviews months before the race and during, answers those questions of not just why would anyone do this, but also how? The answers might surprise you, allowing yourself to relate to climbing this personal mountain and even inspire you.

We meet Aalto 9 months before the race, at the age of 45, contemplating whether or not he has it in himself to do it yet again.  Sanjay depicts Aalto’s personal journey while learning the history of running and how it still impacts indigenous people in the world. Interspersed between interviews with the race directors, runners, family members, and physicians, we gain perspective from Buddhist monks whose centuries-old traditions of accepting a challenge to walk around a mountain, 60 miles each day for a thousand days.  Sanjay then transports us half-way across the globe, introducing us to Native Americans whose heritage and understanding of nature is quite similar to the monks.  And in between, Aalto and 11 others use mind and meditation to keep running, focusing on completion step by step.

We follow these 12 runners throughout the course of three weeks, watching as their exhausted muscles break down in the excruciating heat, trying to stay hydrated.  The strong of mind, body and soul persevere as others cannot endure.  We feel their pain and exhaustion, urging them to stay strong as they complete final miles. It’s a tension-filled ending, not knowing which one will cross the finish line first as we see the need for not just physical strength, but mental and spiritual.

“3100: Run and Become“ beautifully captures the heart and inspiration of all who close their eyes, take a breath, and open their hearts to life.   This transcendence run is fueled by meditation or as one director described it, “Running is a form of prayer.”  While many of us may never get up off the couch to run a 5k, we can all set a goal of becoming more aware of nature, what she gives us, and appreciate our surroundings as we walk on the Earth beneath our feet.  

Check out “3100:  “ opening at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Friday, Sept. 21 through Sept. 27 and again on Oct. 6, the day before the Chicago Marathon.

TIFF 2018: It’s a wrap!

September 14th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “TIFF 2018: It’s a wrap!”

Films seem to come in a myriad number of flavors and styles. Where better to sample all of these tastes than at the Toronto International Film Festival? This year’s TIFF proved to be one of the most competitive and entertaining festivals with more Oscar buzz-worthy films than ever before.

With hundreds of feature films from all over the world, there were plenty to please every film palate. Some of these films continue to gain critical acclaim and audience appreciation from other festivals, such as “The Kindergarten Teacher” and “Colette,” while others are shooting quickly to the top, such as “First Man” and “Widows.”

Seeing more than 25 films at this year’s fest, I’ve compiled my “Best of the Fest” list to share with you. Many of these films will be released in the coming months, just in time for Oscar consideration.

To read all about the best of the fest, go to the Friday, Sept. 14th edition of The Daily Journal:
https://www.daily-journal.com/life/entertainment/pam-powell-s-best-of-the-fest/article_511327a4-b6c0-11e8-aca7-bbfdd8d6900c.html

“White Boy Rick” Gritty film deftly portraying injustices

September 14th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““White Boy Rick” Gritty film deftly portraying injustices”

“White Boy Rick” isn’t another “American Hustle” as promised in the trailers, but it is a movie based on the unlikely true story of Rick Wershe Jr. (Richie Merritt), a drug-trafficking teen who got his start as an informant-drug dealer for the FBI in the mid-1980s.

Andy Weiss, Logan Miller and Noah Miller co-wrote this crazy story with Yann Demange in the director’s chair, starring Matthew McConaughey, Merritt, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bruce Dern.

It’s Detroit, 1984, and the city is suffering from every economic woe possible. Gangs and drug violence are just the tip of the iceberg in this decaying city run by corrupt politicians. Rick Sr. (McConaughey) is a gun dealer, using his shady ways to connect with and sell his wares, as he and his 15-year-old son bond over these illicit transactions.

To read the review in its entirety, go to https://www.daily-journal.com/life/entertainment/reel-talk-white-boy-rick/article_72f4a458-b6a0-11e8-9206-df3e6e258341.html

Filmmaker Michal Aviad talks about her empowering and realistic TIFF film “Working Woman”

September 5th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “Filmmaker Michal Aviad talks about her empowering and realistic TIFF film “Working Woman””

Michal Aviad’s newest film, “Working Woman,” has its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Tuesday, Sept. 11. The film depicts the story of Orna (Liron Ben Shlush), a happily married woman who is financially struggling to make ends meet as she attempts to balance motherhood and career. With an opportunity to support the family and her husband’s opening of a new restaurant, Orna becomes a sales sensation for the real estate mogul Benny (Menashe Noy). The price she pays is higher than anticipated, combatting the advances of her boss while attempting to keep her job. This riveting and realistic portrayal of women in the work place is as disturbing and eye-opening as it is empowering. With extraordinary performances and an intuitively thought-provoking script co-written by Aviad, Sharon Azulay Eyal, and Michal Vinik, Aviad directs her cast to bring to light a subject matter that is timely and relevant while allowing others to more accurately understand a woman’s perspective and challenges in life.

I had a chance to talk with Aviad about her inspiration in developing such an intricately real story as well as her own empowering actions in life. Her strength both behind the camera and in the film industry elicits a sense of camaraderie and motivation to make a difference in our own communities right now.

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT AHEAD!

Pamela Powell (PP): You’ve been in this industry long enough to see the tides begin to turn.  Looking back on your career, was any of this story inspired by your own life or observations?

Michal Aviad (MA):I worked ten years as a waitress, and since the late 1980’s as a filmmaker and film teacher. I’ve experienced many things at work and in life – from humiliating sexual comments to sexual abuse. Struggling to work as a woman filmmaker was and still often is accompanied by degrading behavior towards me as a woman. On the other hand, luckily, as an Independent Film Director, I don’t have bosses. In addition, I have been working with feminist colleagues for many years to bring issues of female equality into the national consciousness. For example, in our industry, two years ago, with The Israeli Forum of Women in Cinema & TV, I took part in writing a treaty which calls everyone to report sexual harassment at work and detail the actions that will be taken against harassers.

PP: Studying both literature and philosophy, how do these combine to help in creating such articulate and deep characters like Orna and her husband?

MA: The education I received in the Humanities helps me to understand the world. It also opened me to reading feminist philosophy and theory, as well as film theory. All those have shaped my values and outlook on society and cinema. In addition, for many years I’ve been making documentaries, which brought me to communities and women who belong to different classes and ethnicities than my own. Meeting people through work gave me the opportunity to deepen my thoughts and feelings about the ways gender issues manifest themselves.

In WORKING WOMAN, I wanted to understand how and why working relations between men and women, so often go wrong. I know women like Orna: talented and ambitious young mothers, who have to work full time to survive, but also strive for success at their jobs. I knew I wanted to tell a story about such a woman. Also, while writing I wanted to shape Orna and her husband as a loving couple, since I wanted my heroine to reject her boss’s advances because she is simply in love with another man, her husband. I wanted to make Ofer, Orna’s husband, lovable and sexy, and what is sexier for women (I wish men realized this) than a caring father? We were writing a story in which I wanted to find out how sexual harassment at work affects not only the victim’s soul, but also her relations with her entire environment. I wanted to find out why Orna and many women do not tell even loved ones about the struggle they go through.

PP: This film’s story will most certainly, and unfortunately, resonate with a majority of women in the workplace.  With such an empowering end, what do you hope others will take away from it?

MA: I am glad you see the end as empowering, since Orna, like most women and unlike the #MeToo heroines, does not go public. According to an Israeli law against sexual harassment created in 1998, Orna doesn’t stand a chance of proving her case at court. In reality, women who go through sexual harassment at work, more often than not, lose everything: their job, promised money, their hopes to advance and the ability to find a similar job. But Orna is not just a helpless victim, she goes out to fight for what she can get.

I wanted to put a magnifying glass on the much convoluted issue of sexual harassment at the work place. I wish viewers, women and men, will come out of the film with an understanding how and why it happens and how complicated it can be at times. I hope that audiences identify with Orna and what she is going through, and hope they see the blind spots the protagonists and we all have. By understanding how common and deeply engrained sexual abuse is in our culture, we can fundamentally change women-men relationships and build a society in which, rather than power, treating the other as equal humans, guides our lives together.


PP: Tell me how you worked with Liron (Orna) whose performance was subtle yet complex and exuded intelligence and strength. (Photo courtesy Matt Johnstone Publicity)

MA: First of all, Liron is an extremely intelligent and talented actress.
During auditions, most of the young actresses who auditioned for the part knew about sexual harassment from personal experience. But when Liron auditioned, I felt that she knew Orna. Liron was 20 weeks pregnant at the time, but I felt she was my heroine, so we waited for her to give birth and recover. While filming, Liron was breast-feeding, which was an additional feminist angle to the set. In the months prior to filming, Liron and I researched Orna together. We met with women who sell real estate, we toured the neighborhood where I wanted Orna and Ofer to live, and we talked for days. We slowly shaped every step of Orna’s journey. We knew her strengths and flaws. In each scene we knew how she acts and reacts. During production, Liron, who appears in each shot in the film, knew Orna as well as me, and sometimes better. She became my main partner on the set.

PP: The hotel scene literally stopped me from breathing as I hesitantly watched the details unfold. Can you tell me about the research about sexual harassment and assault that you did to portray such realistic responses? 

MA: My previous narrative feature film, INVISIBLE (2011), is about the trauma of two women who were raped many years earlier by the same serial rapist. My personal experience and years of reading testimonies on the subject, helped me grasp the complex reactions of victims of sexual abuse. Shaping the assault scene at the hotel, stems also from watching films, the majority of which were made by men. I was trying to veer away from creating a scene that can sexually stimulate viewers. Rape and harassment scenes in cinema are traditionally directed to combine the greatest ticket sales formula: sex and violence on the screen. I do not want to be part in that tradition. I wanted to show a horrific scene that didn’t involve nudity and blood.

PP: Benny’s character is slowly unveiled allowing the viewer to understand Orna’s response to stay in her job.  Tell me about collaborating with Menashe (Benny) to get such a strong and realistic portrayal of this character.

MA: … Menashe and I have worked for many years within the film and TV community in Israel and both of us personally know men who were accused and charged with sexual abuse. We agreed that Benny cannot be an evil caricature. We shaped a character that has lots of charm and generosity, a boss that appreciates Orna, his employee, and seeks to advance her, but is blind to his power and to the will of the woman he likes so much.

PP: To say that this is a timely tale is an understatement.  What are your thoughts about the timing and issues that apparently are not only happening in the U.S., but around the world?

MA: When #MeToo happened I was in the middle of shooting. The news was for me a breath of a new hope. Finally we are moving from the frustrated margins to the mainstream of the struggle against sexual abuse. But from the 200 hundred years history of the feminist movement, I know that achievements often meet powerful waves of oppression. In Israel, the variety of reactions to each new story about sexual abuse always include men who lament the death of flirting, warn against a plague of false accusations and protest against a return to puritan times. Fear and fantasy get mixed up. On the other hand, so far the women that came out in the #MeToo moment are famous, wealthy celebrities who make news. I would love nurses, chambermaids and secretaries to come out with their stories without paying a terrible price. I wish for WORKING WOMAN and for society that men as well as many women realize that we have to re-think the old values we grew up on and re-shape the society we live in. I feel optimistic, but the road is still long.

PP: You also capture the difficulties in balancing children, work, and home along with financial pressures associated with all of this.  

MA: Women struggle to prove that we can work as hard and as many hours as men do. In most Western societies, this is the only way women can obtain a career and sufficient income. But we, women, are also brought up to take primal responsibility for the home and children. Orna, in comparison with most women, is lucky to have a husband who takes some of the domestic workload off her shoulders. I hope that with the wake-up call to eradicate sexual abuse, we will change many other cultural “arrangements” between the sexes. I wish for a society where all adults work shorter days, and men join women in the joy and responsibility of caring for and raising children.

PP: In making this film, what was the most difficult aspect for you in bringing this to life?

MA: The very banal but still true answer is: funding. For four years we searched for funding. The competition for funding in Israel is fierce, but in addition, we received responses from funders in Israel and in Europe which ranged from: The script is not an interesting enough subject for a film, to not believing that Orna does not want sex with Benny, to suggesting to make the sexual abuse more brutal to create “real drama”.

It is with sincere gratitude that Aviad received the funding necessary to complete this timely story as its importance cannot be understated.

Be sure to see “Working Woman” at TIFF and walk in the shoes of a working woman, wife, and mother. For more information about this film, go to TIFF.net

“Operation Finale”

August 29th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Operation Finale””

Theatrically, Ben Kingsley has and continues to do it all. Starring in “Operation Finale” as the Nazi “Architect of the Holocaust” and war criminal running from authorities, Kingsley perfects his skills to bring us a chillingly real and layered performance, First-time screenwriter Matthew Orton depicts, through painstaking research, the events of Israeli secret agents tracking down Adolf Eichmann based on a tip. Finding and confirming his identity and then abducting him was the easy part of the assignment. Getting him out of the Nazi supportive country of Argentina was death defying, taking 11 days with authorities hot on their trail. To allow Eichmann, aka Ricardo Klement, to leave the country, a signed written permission was necessary and one agent was compelled to rise above the techniques his slain family had received from Eichmann’s underlings in order to obtain this document.

The horrific stories from the Holocaust continue to arise, reminding us of the depths to which people can sink, taking away not only life, but humanity. Director Chris Weitz opens the film with strikingly raw information set in white type on a plain black screen to accentuate the information about the slaughter of Jews during WWII. After a brief yet impactful history lesson, we are introduced to the characters in the film. We are taken back to the late 1950’s when a young Jewish girl, Sylvia (Haley Lu Richardson) begins to date the “son” of Eichmann, Klaus (Joe Alwyn). The identity of these young people is at first unknown to one another. By chance, Sylvia’s father (Peter Strauss) is suspicious of Klaus’ father’s identity and contacts authorities. The cat and mouse game has now begun.

The tension is immediately set and we quickly leap forward into the capture of Eichmann by the undercover team. With a major snag in this well-orchestrated plan, we see, day by day, the men’s personalities revealed and their motivation to bring this man back to Israel to stand trial.

Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) is the lone wolf in this pack, attempting to hold on to a sense of humanity and attempting to connect on an emotional level with Eichmann to obtain that signature. Malkin is also a loose canon as is indicated by references to past assignments. The real story lies between Malkin and Eichmann as the two assess one another and play each other’s psychological game. During the conversations, we are frequently brought back in time to Malkin’s nightmares and his loss of his sister and her children as well as his own errors resulting in other’s future nightmares. The guilt and the suffering is immeasurable and “Operation Finale” expertly portrays this through the dark images, suffocatingly closed in shots, and bringing to life the memories of war.

Kingsley’s performance is exceptional as we see him ever so subtly trying to manipulate his abductors. He also shows us there is more to Eichmann than a monster as he cares deeply for his wife and children. The cunning and manipulative skills of Eichmann are expertly depicted by Kingsley, particularly as the final scenes unfold. Isaac is adequate in this role, but at times there seems to be a lack of emotion, disconnecting the viewer from his performance. The pacing of the film is erratic at times as it errantly attempts to find a few chuckles between the characters and even a love story between Malkin and Hanna (Melanie Laurent).

“Operation Finale” brings us back to a time that should not be forgotten, particularly with the rise of White Supremacy in the United States today. The film creates a palpable hatred as we witness gruesome scenarios and still shots of memories of bodies piled high, children murdered, and pits of people awaiting their death. These disturbing images punctuate the realities of this war and the pain that these Israeli undercover agents have experienced.

While there are some issues with pacing and editing as well as Isaac’s performance, “Operation Finale” is an important part of history that should not be forgotten. Stick around for the credits to see footage and clips of the real story.

To read the review of this film as printed in the Friday, August 31st edition of The Daily Journal, go to
THE DAILY JOURNAL

3 1/2 Stars

TIFF 2018, An interview with filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald

August 26th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, News 0 thoughts on “TIFF 2018, An interview with filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald”

The 2018 Toronto International Film Festival is just around the corner with hundreds of features, short films and documentaries from around the world.

TIFF also has virtual reality experiences, conferences, presentations by legendary directors and even a few parties beginning Sept. 6 and running through Sept. 16.

This “festival of festivals” began in 1976 and has grown to be one of the premiere festivals in the world as both seasoned filmmakers and up-and-comers walk the red carpet and wait for the audience’s reactions to their creations.

Thom Firzgerald’s newest film, “Splinters,” will make its world debut at TIFF, and I had a chance to talk with the award-winning filmmaker about the film, inspired by the play of the same name by Lee-Anne Poole.

Set in a small farming community in Nova Scotia, Belle (Sophia Banzhaf) attempts to find peace with the loss of her father and to rectify and repair her relationship with her mother, who finds difficulty in accepting her sexual identity. It’s a beautiful and heartfelt drama, capturing the love of family and self as it explores the complexities of life.

Fitzgerald shared his thoughts about his characters and creating this timeless and relevant film.

To read the interview in its entirety go to
THE DAILY JOURNAL

“Juliet, Naked” Best Rom-Com in years

August 24th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Juliet, Naked” Best Rom-Com in years”

The Academy Award nominated writer, Nick Hornby, hones his romantic and comedic skills in “Juliet, Naked” as Tamara Jenkins, Jim Taylor, and Evgenia Peretz create the hilariously off-kilter screenplay, starring Ethan Hawke, Rose Byrne, and Chris O’Dowd. Jesse Peretz directs the film which focuses on Annie (Byrne) whose relationship with Duncan (O’Dowd) is failing thanks to his consuming hobby and interest in the elusive musician Tucker Crowe (Hawke). Just by chance, Annie writes a scathing review about a lost Tucker Crowe album only to connect with the star. Their long-distance communications become much more than that and Duncan may find himself kicked to the curb.

We meet Annie in a small town in England as she talks to the viewers by way of narration, describing her current situation. We find out her father passed away and now fills his shoes running the historical society. We also are privy to her dissatisfaction with her long-term relationship with Duncan and why. His obsession with and over-analyzing Tucker Crowe’s life and music provides plenty of comic relief for the viewer, but doesn’t leave much time for Annie and two have drifted apart. Annie and Duncan agreed to never have children, but Annie’s tune is changing, but with no communication occurring, it seems there’s no hope. When Annie discovers the lost album “Juliet, Naked,” and Duncan discovers a new colleague at the university, the stories diverge, and we follow them both along their new rocky and frequently funny new path.

The primary story is seen through Annie’s eyes, knowing her thoughts and emotions as well as her written communication via email to Tucker. These wonderfully creative thoughts expressed in emails cut to each of their cores, finding safety in writing their honest emotions to someone thousands of miles away. We understand her new-found diversion and secretly root for them to connect, but Tucker lives in the States and has a lot on his plate, too! The humor and anticipation builds as Annie and Duncan go their separate ways and Tucker then enters the picture, much to Duncan’s disbelief.

We are also privy to Duncan’s antics and witness Tucker’s crazy and chaotic family life. The dramatic elements are always there as this film delves deeply into relationships and how they fail, but never, ever does this film forget it’s a comedy. The use of uncomfortable situations that occur in the drama of life also create funny situations that connect you more deeply with the characters. What makes this film different and more relevant is that it integrates today’s technology and communication as well as all the different family trees structures possible.

Byrne has always been the supporting actress in films, and a strong one, but this time she proves that she can carry a film as the lead. From “Bridesmaids” to “Spy,” Byrne has a brilliant sense of comedic timing and now she is able to shine brightly. Of course, O’Dowd, also from “Bridesmaids,” is hilarious with his delivery and his seemingly off the cuff comments as he plays the oblivious professor and boyfriend. But it is Hawke that is truly surprising as he offers an ingeniously funny performance, laughing as much at himself as his character’s situations. He’s as real as he is witty, allowing us to see yet another side of this accomplished actor who’s getting to really show his abilities this year.

“Juliet, Naked” takes the rom-com genre to a refreshingly new level that I haven’t seen since Harry and Sally met. The film never loses its pace or its focus while it is relevant and makes you believe in romance in real life. It was a favorite at the 2018 Sundance film festival and stands the test of time, remaining a favorite film of the year.

4 Stars

“The Happytime Murders” Raunchy anti-muppet movie delivers what it promised

August 23rd, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Happytime Murders” Raunchy anti-muppet movie delivers what it promised”

There’s a lot of hubbub out there right now about the Anti-Muppet movie, “The Happytime Murders,” and for good reason. It’s certainly NOT a kids’ movie and it certainly IS “R” rated, although it’s for language, “drug” usage (sugar snorting) and sexual references because, let’s face it, puppets really can’t be sexually explicit, right? Tack on an racy, over-the-top trailer and a law suit from Sesame Street suing none other than Jim Henson’s son, Brian Henson, the director of the film, and you have yourself some free marketing and publicity, aka a public relations directors’ dream!

“The Happytime Murders” is written by Todd Berger who gave us the brilliant independent dark comedy “It’s A Disaster.” Now, Berger and Henson team up to create a story about an alternate universe where puppets and people attempt to live together and sugar is the black market drug. With a rash of puppet murders, specifically the original “Happytime Gang,” from a throw back television series, Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) and former partner turned Private Investigator, Phil Phillips (voiced by Bill Barretta) team back up with bad blood between them to figure out who-dunnit.

The film uses narration and a tone which immediately conjures images of 1940‘s Film Noir movies like Dick Powell’s “Murder, My Sweet” complete with a slightly disheveled detective and a gorgeous woman (puppet) in need of the detective’s “services” (double entendre here). Beneath the licentious jokes, vulgar insults, and lewd scenes, there lies a few not-so-subtle messages regarding equality, discrimination, and respect for others. The story plays out like any other murder mystery, but because these are puppets, the envelope is pushed to the max regarding sexual references and the crass and offensive language uttered from a puppets lips (which Edwards is unable to read for obvious reasons) jolts you within the first 30 seconds of the film as the f-bombs start flying. At times, you laugh out loud and at others, you roll your eyes. Given the fact that our lead is a woman, in fact all three main characters are female with Maya Rudolph and Elizabeth Banks having the most human screen time, several jokes seemed to make only me laugh. Of course, I was surrounded by a predominantly male group who just didn’t understand what an effort it is to wear heels or pull of an all white outfit!

The pace of the film is fast with only a few lags, but the attention to detail, particularly the scenery, gives the film another element of humor. As this is a G-Rated paper, I’ll omit some of the signage of places Detective Edwards and Phillips went to gather information. Suffice it to say, there was alliteration and many more double entendres. Finding humor in every scene, even ones that went to the dogs as one puppet was killed by a few adorable terriers looking for the squeaker, the film kept its focus on laying the trail of breadcrumbs to find the killer. And you actually felt like these puppets were people very early into the film as you are filled with disdain for those who treated the stuffed creatures as second class citizens and you are shocked as you witness the “murders” with their fluffy innards laying haphazardly everywhere.

There’s no argument that this is a raunchy comedy, but you know that going into it. The puppetry is amazing as it, along with the editing and camera work, makes you believe the puppets are real. That really places a difficult task on the human actors to do well, and they do. McCarthy never disappoints as she develops a friendship with Phil the puppet. Rudolph, while her character of “Bubbles” doesn’t exactly push her acting skills to new levels, seems to have fun portraying this ditzy, lovable receptionist who’s head over heels in love with Phil. Banks, no stranger to this type of comedy (“Pitch Perfect”), creates the squeaky clean teen gone bad character with ease.

“The Happytime Murders” make “Bridesmaids,” “Trainwreck,” and “The Hangover” look pretty tame, but that’s thanks to the use of puppets. There are plenty of ill-humored, sexually explicit films that lack a story, but this isn’t one of them. There’s a story with a few relevant social issues addressed as well. Is it great cinema that we will hear about during Oscar season? Absolutely not. Is it fun, embarrassingly so? Yes. It pushes the envelope and a few buttons, but that’s exactly what it promised to do in the beginning. And thanks to this film, I’ll never look at licorice the same way again.

“Jake Squared” Displays ‘neurotic introspection’ with perfection

August 20th, 2018 Posted by Review, Weekly DVD 0 thoughts on ““Jake Squared” Displays ‘neurotic introspection’ with perfection”

If you could have a chat with your younger self, what would that younger version say?  Would he/she be disappointed or proud?  What words of wisdom would you give yourself now?  That’s exactly what happens in the new comedy “Jake Squared.”   Jake Klein is a 50 year old filmmaker who decides to throw a party while making a film about himself when he was young.  He hires a drop-dead gorgeous and chiseled young man to play this role and the two begin to film the movie at Jake’s home.  (Now, don’t hold that against Jake.  Who would YOU hire to play your younger version? I’d pick Kiera Knightley)  As the filming begins, confusion ensues, but in a completely entertaining way.  Jake appears to have many forms of his younger self appearing at different times, interacting with everyone and yielding many different reactions!  Are these people real?  Is Jake having a nervous breakdown?  Or is he just trying to sort through his complicated love life and past decisions?  

“Jake Squared” is absolutely hilarious while it still asks very important questions about life and how this character has chosen to live it.  Jake’s teenage daughter seems to have it more together than he does.  Many of their interactions are that of a typical father-daughter, but sprinkled into the mix is great maturity and knowledge on the part of  Sarah (Gia Mantegna).  There’s not a moment in the film that doesn’t entertain or enlighten you.  This is a smart comedy, happily pulling the viewer along, requiring you to pay close attention so you don’t miss any key elements.  Jake and his best girl friend, Beth (Virginia Madsen) frequently talk to the camera to break into the viewers’ world, helping you to decipher what is happening to Jake and why he has such a complicated love life.  

Elias Koteas has the arduous task of  playing Jake.  He’s also Jake at 40 and Jake at 30.  Having a conversation with these other versions in the same room was sheer perfection.  You truly believed that these other Jakes were there to question and at times antagonize Jake (50).  Throw in another version of himself at 17 (played by Kevin Railsback), a deceased father and grandfather as well as a young version of his mother to help him figure out why he can’t commit to love, and you have glorious chaos.  The conversations that these characters have with the Jake at 50 are really quite amazing.  He finds out information about his parents’ relationship as well as his own foibles.  He is unlucky in love, but maybe with a bit of “neurotic introspection” as Howard Goldberg, writer and director of the film termed it, he’ll figure it all out perfectly.

The entire cast in “Jake Squared” harmonizes together perfectly, never hitting a sour note.  The timing and interactions enable this film to be more than funny; it strikes a chord in your own life.  Jane Seymour resonates beauty, grace, and love in her role as Joanne.  It is Madsen’s character of Beth, Jake’s best friend with whom he shares his true thoughts and feelings, that completes the complicated circle of friends and family.  She is the epitome of a best friend of the opposite sex.  We can easily read her feelings as she and Jake talk, but Jake is so consumed by the strange events occurring that he is blind to what’s right in front of him.  Madsen portrays that inner struggle perfectly. And I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed watching the hot tub scenes focusing upon Mike Vogel as the young hired actor Jake.
“Jake Squared” is a fast paced, comedically intense film which capitalizes on the energy and talent of not only the cast but also the succinctly written script.  This is a very complicated story, but at the heart of it all it is really quite simple.  It’s about a high energy and confused man trying to find love and not make any more mistakes that he might regret.  Following the story-line feels a little difficult, but rest assured the loose ends are all neatly tied up for a completely satisfying film.  ”Jake Squared” is one of the most creative and unique films I’ve seen in a long time.  How many films have you seen that can make you laugh, sigh with empathy for a situation, nod your head in understanding, feel like the actors are addressing you from the screen, and make you think about your own life and decisions?  My guess is, not many.  Check out “Jake Squared” and enjoy the roller coaster ride of life.  Then ask yourself, “What would my younger self say to me?”

You can see JAKE SQUARED on DVD, iTunes, Amazon or stream it for free if you’re an Amazon Prime member.
4/4 Stars

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

August 17th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Pick of the Litter” Opens the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McKenzie Chinn, Chicago filmmaker talks about her newest film “Olympia”

August 16th, 2018 Posted by Interviews, News 0 thoughts on “McKenzie Chinn, Chicago filmmaker talks about her newest film “Olympia””

Chicago area commercial actress and filmmaker McKenzie Chinn, creates an undeniably compelling story with her first feature film “Olympia” from Cow Lamp Films. Chinn’s tale, inspired by her own question of what it means to make the transition into true adulthood, takes us on a journey of self-discovery with the main character of Olympia who is dealing with a dying mother, a loving and committed boyfriend, and making momentous decisions. Chinn’s vividly centered artistry shines through her layered characters, integrating graphic art and insightful humor as we are drawn into the character and struggle of Olympia.  We laugh as we identify with her and feel the pain of walking in her shoes while she makes her own unique journey through life. 

I had a chance to sit down and talk with Chinn, a vibrant young woman from Baltimore who moved to the Windy City in 2008 to attend DePaul University’s School of Theater to study acting. She lit up the small coffee shop as her energy and smile were wonderfully infectious. We openly discussed her background, the genesis of “Olympia,” and what it means to be not just female in the world of filmmaking, but also a woman of color. By the end of the interview, Chinn seemed wise beyond her years and from my perspective, she is now standing firmly in the land of adulthood.

Pamela Powell (PP): Tell me about the musical group you perform with.

McKenzie Chinn (MC): We fuse lyrical narrative hip hop styles of poetry with music and sound and perform that…We tend to write a lot about identity … We spend a lot of time talking about what it means to be a black person in the world today, what it means to be a woman in the world today, and what it’s like to be a part of our generation. I’m really interested in … the power of our own personal narratives and also how powerful it is when you see your narrative reflected outside of you. So when you see your narrative in the media, when you see someone who’s similar to you in a film or on TV, it’s validating in a way that’s really critical.

PP: Do you think things are truly changing quickly thanks to the #MeToo movement or do you think things began changing prior to that?

MC: I think a little bit of both. I think the way that we get to tell our stories is changing very rapidly and the ways in which we get to tell them differently, that has been precipitated by the #MeToo movement. For instance, in the early [2000’s], we had “Sex in the City” which was fun and great and spoke to a lot of people, but that show was very limited in its scope; limited in how we got to think of ourselves as women in the world. Now we have shows like “Broad City” and platforms like “2 Dope Queens” [and] I feel like we are getting to encompass more of ourselves, we’re able to be more faceted and more nuanced and way less apologetic about how we present. I think the attitude about it is deal with it. That’s not my problem any more, that’s your problem. It’s incredibly empowering. I think [these shows] really changed how women get to talk about themselves and how we get to encompass our fuller selves.

PP: When did you first start telling stories?

MC: I’ve always been a story teller ever since I can remember. One of the things I loved doing when other kids would play outside, I would just be writing little stories. One of the first stories I ever wrote, I’ll never forget it, … was about a unicorn that got kidnapped. And my sister did the illustrations.

PP: Do you still have the book?

MC: No. I wish I still did. I can still see my sister’s illustrations and we took it very seriously. For the longest time, I thought I was going to be a writer. I was going to study journalism, but then got pulled in the direction of theater which I found incredibly exciting and intoxicating. Then I went to graduate school and that was incredibly consuming. So writing as just an activity that got back-burnered in a really major way. But when I finished school in 2011, I finished unemployed [and] we were still recovering from the recession. I have all this time and all this expressive energy and so I started writing [again].

PP: That brings us to your film “Olympia.”

MC: I got a fellowship that funded a large part of OLYMPIA. It’s called the Annenberg Artist Fellowship and a component … of that fellowship is having an artist mentor and [Tarell Alvin MCCraney- “Moonlight” ] was my artist mentor. It’s so exciting to be in a moment where people get to encompass fuller selves, not just stereotypes and not just best friends, but to actually have a voice and have a story in an arc … regardless of where they come from… 

PP: That’s amazing that this was your first project and it was through DePaul!

MC: This was my first foray into filmmaking. I think I only take really big steps. [laughs] Like Burnham, one of the architects of Chicago said ‘Make no small plans,’ and I think that’s just a part of my DNA as an artist. It never even occurred to me to make a short. It was a huge learning curve, but I was smart enough to surround myself with people who I knew had much more experience and could help the vision come to life.

PP: Tell me about writing “Olympia.”

MC: I wrote OLYMPIA shortly after turning 30 which felt like a major milestone in a way that I wasn’t expecting. I feel like folks in my generation, the millennial generation, that we don’t have the same milestones that our parents had to move us into adulthood. You know, my parents’ generation, sometime in their twenties, maybe their thirties, they got married, started a career that they would have for thirty or forty years, got a house,  [and] had children.  These are very recognizable mile markers that confer adulthood. I felt like by the time people in my generation got to those same points, the rule book had completely changed… The economy has changed and what we’re able to do has changed. If those things that were mile markers aren’t really the same anymore then what does it mean to be an adult? I found myself turning 30 and feeling like, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished what I should have by this age and I should have a much better handle on life. I should have a 401k and all these things I really have not done much thinking about.’ … Olympia is trying to figure out her career. She’s in this relationship that has gone really well but that she doesn’t necessarily feel like she owed anything to in terms of like putting anything into stone and her mother is ill. All of these things are coming to a head. It’s forcing her to make a solid choice and go in a specific direction. I think there are variables, but she’s just never had to choose or has felt like it was important to choose until now.

PP: In the film, Olympia is very connected with her mother who is dying. Can you explore this topic a little further from a personal standpoint?

MC: While this story is not autobiographical, I definitely pull from my own sense of what’s important and what resonates for me. One of my most cherished relationships is with my mom and fortunately she’s still with me. I think it would be so incredibly disorienting to me to not have that figure in my life… I remember feeling like that for me would be the breaking point. You have to make a choice now because you don’t have this thing you can lean on, you don’t have an escape hatch. It’s you now. For me that’s adulthood.

PP: I loved the Chicago drone shots and graphic art!

MC: The Drone shots were Greg Dixon. He was dead set on having those kind of shots. The animation was his idea [too]. It’s collaborative…lifts it to a level that you never imagined. It changed the whole tenor and tone.
PP: Tell me about your cast.

MC: As a person of color, it was just very important to me that the story be … around other people of color. That was very intentional. I think so many times when you’re a person of color in media, you get asked to lean into a stereotype or the tired type of idea like a maid.  Or how many times have I auditioned to be a slave? I’m just over it. It felt really good to write and perform in a story that, yes, I’m fully black, all the time … I’m just a person living my life. You don’t have to divorce those things. They can both be true. And that every single thing doesn’t have to revolve around oppression and marginalization.

PP: To be honest, I didn’t even realize that everyone was a person of color in the film.
 
MC: Isn’t that great that we’re in that place now? I think so many times we see movies where the cast is mostly black or people of color and people write it off as a black movie. No, actually it’s just a movie. It’s really so heartwarming to hear you say that!

Check back to find out where you can see this film!

“Crazy Rich Asians” More of a travel ad than a love story

August 15th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Crazy Rich Asians” More of a travel ad than a love story”

Kevin Kwam’s novel “Crazy Rich Asians,” adapted for the silver screen by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim and directed by Jon M. Chu, gives us a fairy tale Cinderella story set in China as an American-Chinese woman falls in love with a Chinese aristocrat. The film poses the age-old question of “Can love conquer all?” or at least can Rachel (Constance Wu) and Nick (Henry Golding) overcome an overbearing, judgmental mother to live happily ever after?

The charismatic Nick Young and the independent Rachel Chu are the epitome of the perfect couple, living their lives in New York City and enjoying this stage of their one-year relationship. Nick, unbeknownst to Rachel, is the son of one of the most prestigious families in China. She accepts an invitation to travel with Nick to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding and to meet his entire family, but finds that she is completely unprepared for his way of life and his mothers’ attempts to not just unnerve her, but drive her away. It seems she is too American and not from “the right” family and will “never be enough” for her son.

“Crazy Rich Asians” focuses primarily on the extravagance and gluttony of the upper echelon with a lesser accentuation, unfortunately, on the cultural differences and difficulties of those who are first-generation Americans. It’s a slow start to this romantic film that attempts to find its way into the rom-com category with the help of Awkwafina portraying Rachel’s best friend from college, Peik Lin Goh, and her father played by Ken Jeong, but it never quite gets there. While they do add several laughs, particularly as Peik Lin shows up to a gala event in street clothes only to have labeled garment bags for every occasion in the trunk of her car (a trick I may replicate), the film’s slow pace never hits the accelerator hard enough until 3/4 of the way through the story. At this point, there is finally some interesting interaction between Rachel, Nick’s mother, Eleanor Young, portrayed with stoic elegance by Michelle Yeoh, and his grandmother, Ah Ma (Lisa Lu) which re-engages us with the main characters.

The superfluous side stories detract from our main characters’ story. Nick’s cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan) and her sometimes scantily clad hubby Michael (Pierre Png) have marital issues and the juvenile jealousies depicted by ridiculously catty behavior of the women are two non-sequiturs in this film. And I’m still disturbed by the creepy voyeurism of Peik Lin’s brother P.T. (Calvin Wong). While these sub-stories may have been an interesting departure in the book, they aren’t pivotal in driving the story forward.

The story may plod along, but Wu’s performance as Rachel endears us to her immediately as she attempts to wrestle with her upbringing, her education, and her heritage. It is her portrayal that allows us to more readily understand the cultural differences and difficulties associated with being a first-generation American. Working together with Golding, we see a wonderfully natural and genuine chemistry between them. And the spry 91 year-young Lisa Lu gives a credible and intimidating performance as the head matriarch of this wealthy family, aka “Ah Ma,” as she exudes the utmost wisdom and grace, just as you would expect in this story.

One of the unexpected highlights of this film is that it may entice you to book a trip to Singapore. Thanks to the cinematography, you can almost taste the sizzling food served from the gourmet food trucks and smell the aroma of fresh seafood from vendors, or feel like you’re walking down the energetic and colorful outdoor market aisles as you gaze up at the extraordinary architecture, enveloped by the vibrant city center’s heartbeat.

“Crazy Rich Asians” is a predictable love story that’s too slow to get off the ground. However, once it hits the road, the elements that create interest such as cultural differences, familial secrets and obligations, the love of a mother and her child , and of course romance, strongly shine through. The added bonus of great costuming and scenery help in forgiving a story-line that finds itself along too many tangential lines.

2 1/2 Stars

“BlacKkKlansman” is sure to start a conversation

August 10th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““BlacKkKlansman” is sure to start a conversation”

From the Friday, August 10, 2018 edition of The Daily Journal:

Spike Lee never has shied away from creating a pointed story about race and our current social and political status, and “BlacKkKlansman” is no exception to this rule.

From the 1989 film “Do the Right Thing” to the more recent “Chiraq,” Lee has brought to the forefront our country’s racism and injustices in a dramatically bold way, creating more than art; he creates a platform to stimulate a conversation in hopes of change.

His newest film, starring John David Washington, Adam Driver and Laura Harrier, “BlacKkKlansman” takes us back in time to the 1970s, depicting the true tale of Officer Ron Stallworth, who infiltrated the local chapter of a Colorado KKK to thwart an attack

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

“Dog Days” Predictable and sappy puppy love story highlights rescuing dogs

August 9th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Dog Days” Predictable and sappy puppy love story highlights rescuing dogs”

From the beginning of time, man’s (and woman’s) best friend has been by his (and her) side and Hollywood is happy to cash in on our love of these furry four-legged friends. From “Lassie,” “Petey” (“The Little Rascals”), and “Toto” (“The Wizard of Oz”) to “Benji,” “Beethoven,” “Baxter” (“Anchorman”) and even “Buddy” the basketball playing dog, creating a film about dogs brings in the viewers and even popularizes a particular breed. Now, we’ve got “Dog Days,” a romantic comedy that will popularize adopting rescues while it tugs on your heartstrings in this predictable and rather sappy, but enjoyable movie.

Elissa Matsueda and Erica Oyama pull out all the stops in writing this screenplay as Ken Marino directs his cast of canines and humans. The writers depict every scenario possible from abandoned and found dogs and runaways to problematic and aging dogs along with their owners’ love and life problems. The only thing missing were adorable puppies, but that’s not the underlying message in this film. It’s to rescue a dog and give him his “furever” home.

“Dog Days” is like a combination of every dog movie and “New Year’s Eve,” “Valentine’s Day,” or “He’s Just Not That Into You,” films with multiple storylines of love. This movie revolves around five very different sets of people (and story lines) who all become connected via their dog situations. Elizabeth (Nina Dobrev), a successful L.A television morning show host has her adopted dog Sam who’s depressed after Elizabeth’s boyfriend cheats on her. She meets Jimmy (Tone Bell) and after a rocky start, their love of dogs helps them discover love again. Dax (Adam Pally) is a starving musician tasked with the responsibility of caring for Charlie whose owner, Dax’s sister, just gave birth to twins. Tara (Vanessa Hudgens) finds a purpose in life and uses her degree for more than serving coffee as she finds Gertrude, a Chihuahua and connects with a dog rescue organization run by Garrett (Jon Bass). Grace (Eva Longoria) and her hubby (Rob Corddry) finally adopt a little girl who finds an elderly gentleman’s dog (Ron Cephas Jones), lost due to a wise crack from the young pizza delivery boy, Tyler (Finn Wolfhard).

If that sounds like too much going on, you’re right. It is. But eventually the stories collide in a very predictable and benign way and you find yourself rooting for the outcome that you absolutely know will happen. There are love stories, unlikely friendships and new families in the making, and the possible loss of a rescue organization’s home. “Dog Days” takes all of these topics and uses more sentimental strokes than Nicholas Sparks ever dreamed of. It’s one of those superficial feel-good films with little substance and total escapism however, there are plenty of laughs along, especially if you’re a mom and/or a dog owner. Unfortunately, there are also stilted and unsurprising moments, but in the end, if you’re a romantic at heart and a dog lover, it’s a sweet schmaltzy fun. You can even gloss over the fact that everyone lives in perfect homes, except Dax, and the newborn twins look to be about 3 months old. And if you’re wondering about the veterinarian’s diagnosis of the helmet-wearing Chihuahua, it’s accurate. I checked.

The human cast adequately fills their roles, but it’s Jasmine Cephas Jones’ voice that captivates you and you hope she’s in more scenes, listening to her sing in gorgeous dulcet tones. Bell and Dobrev have a natural chemistry on screen that pulls you into their relationship, suspending belief in the reality of love. Pally, of course, stands out as the comedic force, and Bass portrays that charmingly awkward underdog to root for while giving us a few chuckles along the way. Corddry, who’s usually hilarious, seems to miss the mark, being stifled by a lack of dialogue. Not surprisingly, the dogs are the stars of the film with remarkable camera work to hone in on just the right reaction to capture our dog-loving hearts.

“Dog Days” is exactly the movie you’re expecting filled with endearing stories about humans and their counterparts as it accentuates the love a dog can give to fulfill your life. Additionally, rescuing dogs from shelters is a main aspect that just may push viewers in the direction of helping a homeless pup find his or her “furever” home. Stick around for ALL of the credits as they roll the edits. You’ll laugh out loud and then wonder why they didn’t do more of this type of humor throughout the film. It would have created a much more entertaining film for adults. Parents, this is not a film for young kids! There are some drug usage references and the pace of the film is rather slow as it focuses on the human interactions and relationships so little tykes are not going to be entertained.

2 1/2 stars

“Puzzle” fits all the pieces together perfectly

August 3rd, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Puzzle” fits all the pieces together perfectly”

***WARNING:SPOILER ALERT***

The 2009 Argentinian film, “Rompecabezas” (“The Puzzle”) by Natalia Smirnoff, has been rewritten by Polly Mann and Oren Moverman (“Norman”) to create a sublimely authentic American adaptation portraying a woman’s need for self-worth and identity while accentuating the influence of religion, specifically during the season of Lent. All of this is created by Agnes’ (Kelly Macdonald) newfound skill of puzzling. Who would have thought that a skill, thought to be more of a solitary endeavor, would lead to so much interaction and discovery!

Agnes is an introverted, unfulfilled, and sheltered wife and mother of two older boys. Her mundane and subservient life is turned upside down when she discovers a new outlet: competitive puzzling. As the family and her community prepare for the upcoming Catholic High Holiday of Easter, we see Agnes’ life unfolding to encompass many aspects of the Easter story including suffering, denial, betrayal, and a rebirth. “Puzzle” is an eloquently evocative film addressing current attitudes still ingrained in our society regarding women’s roles while utilizing the undercurrent of religion and a game.

In many ways, the concept of a woman’s role hasn’t changed in centuries. Women are still expected to be the nurturers, the caregivers, and the caretakers, ultimately putting their own needs not only on hold, but sometimes buried for good. We get a sense of this situation with Agnes in the opening scene as she scurries around during a birthday party, making sure everything is in order, waiting on everyone and ensuring their happiness. Moments later we surprisingly and sadly realize it is her birthday celebration. We later learn that she has sacrificed her own dreams and education in order to raise her children, one of whom belittles her with his words while watching his father do the same with his actions.

Agnes receives a jigsaw puzzle as one of her birthday gifts and sits down to easily put it together. Enjoying this different type of concentration, distracting her from her other responsibilities, Agnes ventures into New York City to purchase another one. Catching her eye in the store is an ad for a puzzle partner. Excitedly yet timidly, Agnes contacts Robert (Irrfan Kahn), a wealthy bachelor with whom she develops more than a friendship. Through Robert, Agnes’ eyes are opened to a whole new world filled with information and emotions to which she had previously been oblivious. In essence, this is the beginning of Agnes’ “transformative” experience.

Throughout the entire film, Agnes’ deep sense of commitment to religion is obvious, but it is religion and the celebration of Easter that truly drives the story forward, drawing parallel lines between this ancient story and Agnes’. The symbolism in the film punctuates the emotional tone as Agnes begins to discover herself. Early in the film, we see the daytime moon, a mythical reference that a storm is coming, but in religion, it is seen as the second and inferior luminary created by God. Both interpretations seem correct as the moon is prevalent in many of the scenes, Agnes always gazing upward toward it. She recognizes that she too is secondary in her family’s lives and feels inferior, but that “storm” that lies ahead will change her forever.

The polar opposites of light and dark are also vividly captured in “Puzzle” from the opening scene to the final one. Closed in, dark shots reflect Agnes’ life in the beginning, but as she opens up and explores her world and her own feelings, there is a brightness shined upon her. The open and bright surroundings are a direct reflection of who she is becoming, just as the season of Lent comes to a close with Jesus’ coming into the light and being resurrected. Agnes begins to stand up for herself, voice an opinion, and be more independent. This new attitude is shocking to her friends and family, but there is an inner lightness that is now evident in her.

Discussion and open ignorance about other religions create another interest in Agnes’ world. Buddhism and the concept of happiness strike a chord in her that will create a symphony of emotions later on. As Agnes ventures out into the world of puzzles with Robert, sneaking away from her family and her expected daily tasks, she begins to lie. While the guilt is evident, particularly when the Parish Father asks if she needs to have confession, she can’t begin to confront her own actions. Meanwhile, her son Ziggy (Bubba Weiler) confesses his innermost fears and frustrations, looking to her for support and guidance. During several key scenes, Ave Maria is heard, accentuating the pushing and pulling toward and away from God and home. She has been blessed, with her sons, but will she renounce that in order to hear her own voice set to her own beat?

While Agnes may be more aptly compared to Peter of the disciples as she turns her back on her religion and her Catholic roots, betraying her husband as she falls into Robert’s arms, the burden of lying has become too much.
This is the darkest point in Agnes’ life, coinciding with Easter Sunday. The slow emotional death she was experiencing found a new spark of life and now, as the tomb is opened and Christ is risen, Agnes determines if she is reborn as well.

Kelly Macdonald demonstrates her versatility as an actress as she eloquently and subtly performs as Agnes. Her understated skills give Agnes the depth and believability that create a woman many of us understand if not even identify with. Macdonald’s relationships with her husband, Robert, and her sons create such authenticity that the dialogue becomes even more powerful, pushing you to tears particularly during the scene with she and Ziggy.

Relationships identify Agnes and it is these relationships that shine a light on the strength of all the cast. David Denman’s performance as Agnes’ husband brings a familiar strength to the screen, representing many marriages and father figures. Austin Abrams typifies so many teens and creates another realistic character in his youthful yet skillful way as Gabe, but it is Weiler’s performance as Ziggy that stays with you, long after the final credits roll. And Kahn is simply extraordinary as Robert finding absolute harmony with Macdonald in this film. The deft direction, exceptional writing, and extraordinary cast make “Puzzle” a film that will stand the test of time and will certainly speak to many of us, perhaps pushing us to find our own inner voices.

4 Stars

To read the interviews with Marc Turtletaub, go to

‘Puzzle’ director Turtletaub talks female-centric film, collaborating genders

and
http://www.daily-journal.com/life/entertainment/interview-with-marc-turtletaub/article_e48fd260-8e85-11e8-be1f-3fd8fd4477f8.html

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK: An interview with the stars

August 1st, 2018 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK: An interview with the stars”

(From the Wednesday, August 1 edition of The Daily Journal)
The sixth season of “Orange Is the New Black” is available on Netflix, and it’s going to be a season of transformational changes.

The series, dating back to its premiere in 2013, is based upon Piper Kerman’s life and memoir, “Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison,” and now has gone well past Kerman’s experiences, transforming itself into one of the most realistic stories of prison while addressing previously unexplored subjects such as lesbian relationships, prison reform and transgender people.

I sat down with three of the stars, Kate Mulgrew (Galina “Red” Reznikov), Taylor Schilling (Piper Chapman) and Dascha Polanco (Dayanara Diaz), to discuss their thoughts and experiences throughout the last 5 years.

Let’s take a look back to the beginning of the show, of which you were all a part. Taylor, tell me about developing your character of Piper.

Schilling: It’s been really beautiful. Piper Kerman, who the book is based on, was at the beginning of the show [and] we spent a great deal of time together. … I just talked to Piper and did prison research, because when Piper went in, she had no idea about prison … but as the second season rolled around, I did go to the women’s camp at Rikers (Island prison) a couple times with Piper.

In playing each of your roles, how have your characters changed or developed, and what part of yourself do you bring to these women?

Mulgrew: It’s been my personal philosophy, in television especially, … when you’re cast in a big role for a television series, they’re looking at your personality. … So the case of Galina Reznikov, strength, forbearance, fortitude, toughness and edge, all the things I could immediately bring to bear on the audition in front of that camera is what won me the role.

And then with the disintegration of the character or … the reduction of the character, there have been added complexities and nuances I’ve loved playing because in that reduction is the humanity of the character, threatened, and I have loved that probably more than the beginning.

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

“Maynard” Depicts a great American leader and first Black mayor of Atlanta

July 25th, 2018 Posted by Review, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on ““Maynard” Depicts a great American leader and first Black mayor of Atlanta”

Samuel D. Pollard writes and directs “Maynard” depicting the extraordinary life of Maynard Jackson, Jr., Atlanta’s first Black mayor in 1973. With touching current personal interviews with friends, family, and colleagues, as well as documented archival footage, we understand this courageous man who was called upon to help set the foundation for racial equality in the South. Once again, thanks to the focused lens of filmmaking, we see our American history more clearly.

Maynard Jackson was bound for brilliance and service from the moment he was born and his grandfather, civil rights leader John Wesley Dobbs knew it as he presented the newborn with the gift of a watch saying, “Time is important and he must know that.” In Jackson’s relatively short life, he created a more level ground upon which corporate Atlanta must play. While he struggled, ironically so, with time management, he utilized his charisma and intelligence to become involved in the political arena, gaining the respect of the people, both Black and white.

Finding his footing was no easy task as he initially struggled in law school at the age of 18. Thanks to the recognition of one professor, Jackson received the guidance he needed in order to find his path in life. Graduating with a law degree several years later at a different institution, Jackson plunged, at first unsuccessfully, into politics. His failure didn’t dissuade him; it only fueled his knowledge and honed his abilities to find the right course.

The film creates a beautiful linear story as it weaves together interviews from his children, his ex-wife, and his widow, as well as prominent figures such as President Bill Clinton, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton. He was truly a “game changer” knowing how to unify and integrate people through intellect and common sense. He’s called the Father of Affirmative Action for a reason and the story is simply brilliant as to how he finds a way to do this. With impeccable integrity, Jackson brought Atlanta to a high point only to see one of the most scarring issues occur under his watchful eye: “The Atlanta Child Murders.” It was a grave time for the community and his response was criticized by many. The use of archival photos and newspaper clippings brought us into Jackson’s mind and heavy heart as he attempted to find the perpetrator. These difficult issues were balanced by giving us humor in the film as we learned about his love of food and how he spent time with his children. Of course, things are never all roses and this was true with his marriage as he divorced and remarried, but he never lost sight of being there for his children even when they clashed.

“Maynard” creates a realistic impression of this great man, communicating his flaws as well as his accomplishments. This approach allows the viewer to more fully understand and appreciate what he did, particularly during such racially volatile times in the Southern states. Perhaps Maynard Jackson continued to pave the road that Dr. Martin Luther King started, creating a less hostile environment for future Black and minority leaders. The respect and articulate lessons he provided in the short time he was here made a difference and we can certainly learn from him now.

“Maynard” is available on all digital platforms such as iTunes. Follow the film on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/maynardmovie, Facebook at https://m.facebook.com/maynardmovie/ or go to the website http://maynardmovie.com for more information.

“Mama Mia! Here We go Again” Light, sweet and fun!

July 20th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Mama Mia! Here We go Again” Light, sweet and fun!”

“Mama Mia! Here We Go Again” follows the story of the original, picking up 10 years later with Sophie (Amanda Siefried) attempting to have a grand opening of the hotel where her mother and she once lived. Donna (Meryl Streep), has passed away, leaving a gaping whole in everyone’s lives and Sophie, in her own love situation with Sky (Dominic Cooper) attempts to carry on with the help of Sam (Pierce Brianna) and all Donna’s cohorts. Simultaneously, the film tells the story of Donna, how she met her three gentlemen, all of whom may be Sophie’s father, and how she came to the Greek Island.

Ol Parker (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) creates a much richer story, set design, and overall product that the first “Mama Mia!” It’s stunningly beautiful with the bold color scheme, captivating you visually as you anticipate a familiar ABBA song. While there are a total of 20 ABBA songs, there are some deep unheard cuts along with several familiar ones, timed perfectly that will make you smile or even laugh aloud.

The story, unfortunately, has a rather slow start to it. To say it’s cheesy in the beginning is accurate with a rather lackluster introduction to both Donna (Lily James) and Harry (Hugh Skinner). It’s not until we meet Bill (Josh Dylan) that things get a little more interesting and we get to know Donna and her vibrant personality, her need and her longing to be loved along with a sense of adventure. From this point, you’re hooked as you love the songs and you are truly having fun watching the back story unfold running parallel to the current day plight that Sophie is experiencing.

Casting with the exception of Harry is extraordinary. James captures our hears with her song, her energy, and her charm. She externally represents what we all envision our youth to have been. She embodies the vibrancy and youthful carefree attitude we all long to get back. Additionally, it’s almost doppelgänger perfect for Tanya (Christine Baranski/Jessica Keenan Wynn) and Rosie (Julie Walters/Alexa Davies). The film flawlessly and creatively bounces back and forth between the present and the past, gaining a greater understanding of the almost 40 years that have passed.

The sequel to “Mama Mia!” Is sheer fun and as you watch the actors, you know they are having a blast as well. As we see Skaarsgard and Firth holding one another at the bow of the boat in Titanic form, you can’t help but join them in a very broad smile. This is just sweet, care-free, good fun once you get past the first 30 minutes.

If you were a fan of the first one, you’re going to love this second one. To listen to Pamela Powell on The Mix 94.5 talk about this film, go to SOUNDCLOUD at ” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>MAMA MIA ON THE MIX

3 STARS

‘Unfriended: Dark Web’ brings genuine horror to the big screen

July 20th, 2018 Posted by Review, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “‘Unfriended: Dark Web’ brings genuine horror to the big screen”

Blumhouse Productions welcomes the millennial generation to their newest nightmare, “Unfriended: Dark Web.” This pitch-black horror film taps into technology to disturb the minds of anyone who uses the computer to stay connected.

As a group of college friends gather virtually for game night, Matias (Colin Woodell) fires up his “new” laptop only to find that a sick and twisted underground group is threatening all of their lives unless the laptop is returned to its original owner.

Stephen Susco, no stranger to horror films, wrote and directed this undeniably psychologically frightening film. Having created the “Grudge” series and “Texas Chainsaw 3D,” Susco hones his horror vision to give viewers the epitome of this genre in today’s computer-driven world. Building tension from the very beginning, Susco expertly introduces characters that we immediately care about.
To read the review in its entirety, go to The Daily Journal’s Friday, July 20th edition

http://www.daily-journal.com/life/unfriended-dark-web-brings-genuine-horror-to-the-big-screen/article_cdea7e5a-893c-11e8-9da2-47f264ffc173.html

Chicago filmmaker McKenzie Chinn discusses her new film “Olympia”

July 18th, 2018 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Chicago filmmaker McKenzie Chinn discusses her new film “Olympia””

Chicago area commercial actress and filmmaker McKenzie Chinn, creates an undeniably compelling story with her first feature film “Olympia” from Cow Lamp Films. Chinn’s tale, inspired by her own question of what it means to make the transition into true adulthood, takes us on a journey of self-discovery with the main character of Olympia who is dealing with a dying mother, a loving and committed boyfriend, and making momentous decisions. Chinn’s vividly centered artistry shines through her layered characters, integrating graphic art and insightful humor as we are drawn into the character and struggle of Olympia.  We laugh as we identify with her and feel the pain of walking in her shoes while she makes her own unique journey through life. 

I had a chance to sit down and talk with Chinn, a vibrant young woman from Baltimore who moved to the Windy City in 2008 to attend DePaul University’s School of Theater to study acting. She lit up the small coffee shop as her energy and smile were wonderfully infectious. We openly discussed her background, the genesis of “Olympia,” and what it means to be not just female in the world of filmmaking, but also a woman of color. By the end of the interview, Chinn seemed wise beyond her years and from my perspective, she is now standing firmly in the land of adulthood.
Pamela Powell (PP): Tell me about the musical group you perform with.
McKenzie Chinn (MC): We fuse lyrical narrative hip hop styles of poetry with music and sound and perform that…We tend to write a lot about identity … We spend a lot of time talking about what it means to be a black person in the world today, what it means to be a woman in the world today, and what it’s like to be a part of our generation. I’m really interested in … the power of our own personal narratives and also how powerful it is when you see your narrative reflected outside of you. So when you see your narrative in the media, when you see someone who’s similar to you in a film or on TV, it’s validating in a way that’s really critical.
PP: Do you think things are truly changing quickly thanks to the #MeToo movement or do you think things began changing prior to that?
MC: I think a little bit of both. I think the way that we get to tell our stories is changing very rapidly and the ways in which we get to tell them differently, that has been precipitated by the #MeToo movement. For instance, in the early [2000’s], we had “Sex in the City” which was fun and great and spoke to a lot of people, but that show was very limited in its scope; limited in how we got to think of ourselves as women in the world. Now we have shows like “Broad City” and platforms like “2 Dope Queens” [and] I feel like we are getting to encompass more of ourselves, we’re able to be more faceted and more nuanced and way less apologetic about how we present. I think the attitude about it is deal with it. That’s not my problem any more, that’s your problem. It’s incredibly empowering. I think [these shows] really changed how women get to talk about themselves and how we get to encompass our fuller selves.
PP: When did you first start telling stories?
MC: I’ve always been a story teller ever since I can remember. One of the things I loved doing when other kids would play outside, I would just be writing little stories. One of the first stories I ever wrote, I’ll never forget it, … was about a unicorn that got kidnapped. And my sister did the illustrations.
PP: Do you still have the book?
MC: No. I wish I still did. I can still see my sister’s illustrations and we took it very seriously. For the longest time, I thought I was going to be a writer. I was going to study journalism, but then got pulled in the direction of theater which I found incredibly exciting and intoxicating. Then I went to graduate school and that was incredibly consuming. So writing as just an activity that got back-burnered in a really major way. But when I finished school in 2011, I finished unemployed [and] we were still recovering from the recession. I have all this time and all this expressive energy and so I started writing [again].
PP: That brings us to your film “Olympia.”
MC: I got a fellowship that funded a large part of OLYMPIA. It’s called the Annenberg Artist Fellowship and a component … of that fellowship is having an artist mentor and [Tarell Alvin MCCraney- “Moonlight” ] was my artist mentor. It’s so exciting to be in a moment where people get to encompass fuller selves, not just stereotypes and not just best friends, but to actually have a voice and have a story in an arc … regardless of where they come from… 
PP: That’s amazing that this was your first project and it was through DePaul!
MC: This was my first foray into filmmaking. I think I only take really big steps. [laughs] Like Burnham, one of the architects of Chicago said ‘Make no small plans,’ and I think that’s just a part of my DNA as an artist. It never even occurred to me to make a short. It was a huge learning curve, but I was smart enough to surround myself with people who I knew had much more experience and could help the vision come to life.
PP: Tell me about writing “Olympia.”
MC: I wrote OLYMPIA shortly after turning 30 which felt like a major milestone in a way that I wasn’t expecting. I feel like folks in my generation, the millennial generation, that we don’t have the same milestones that our parents had to move us into adulthood. You know, my parents’ generation, sometime in their twenties, maybe their thirties, they got married, started a career that they would have for thirty or forty years, got a house,  [and] had children.  These are very recognizable mile markers that confer adulthood. I felt like by the time people in my generation got to those same points, the rule book had completely changed… The economy has changed and what we’re able to do has changed. If those things that were mile markers aren’t really the same anymore then what does it mean to be an adult? I found myself turning 30 and feeling like, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished what I should have by this age and I should have a much better handle on life. I should have a 401k and all these things I really have not done much thinking about.’ … Olympia is trying to figure out her career. She’s in this relationship that has gone really well but that she doesn’t necessarily feel like she owed anything to in terms of like putting anything into stone and her mother is ill. All of these things are coming to a head. It’s forcing her to make a solid choice and go in a specific direction. I think there are variables, but she’s just never had to choose or has felt like it was important to choose until now.
PP: In the film, Olympia is very connected with her mother who is dying. Can you explore this topic a little further from a personal standpoint?
MC: While this story is not autobiographical, I definitely pull from my own sense of what’s important and what resonates for me. One of my most cherished relationships is with my mom and fortunately she’s still with me. I think it would be so incredibly disorienting to me to not have that figure in my life… I remember feeling like that for me would be the breaking point. You have to make a choice now because you don’t have this thing you can lean on, you don’t have an escape hatch. It’s you now. For me that’s adulthood.
PP: I loved the Chicago drone shots and graphic art!
MC: The Drone shots were Greg Dixon. He was dead set on having those kind of shots. The animation was his idea [too]. It’s collaborative…lifts it to a level that you never imagined. It changed the whole tenor and tone.
PP: Tell me about your cast.
MC: As a person of color, it was just very important to me that the story be … around other people of color. That was very intentional. I think so many times when you’re a person of color in media, you get asked to lean into a stereotype or the tired type of idea like a maid.  Or how many times have I auditioned to be a slave? I’m just over it. It felt really good to write and perform in a story that, yes, I’m fully black, all the time … I’m just a person living my life. You don’t have to divorce those things. They can both be true. And that every single thing doesn’t have to revolve around oppression and marginalization.
PP: To be honest, I didn’t even realize that everyone was a person of color in the film. 
MC: Isn’t that great that we’re in that place now? I think so many times we see movies where the cast is mostly black or people of color and people write it off as a black movie. No, actually it’s just a movie. It’s really so heartwarming to hear you say that!
Check back to find out where you can see this film!

“June Falling Down” A standout first feature film from Rebecca Weaver

July 18th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““June Falling Down” A standout first feature film from Rebecca Weaver”

“June Falling Down” depicts June, a small town girl, heading home to sort through the emotional loose ends she left behind a year ago after her father died.  Rebecca Weaver writes, directs, and stars in this award-winning and deeply personal character study film.  With a small ensemble cast and a crew of two, Weaver’s words and perspective will bring us all home again, to a place perhaps we all have a few loose ends to tie.

June has been traveling since her father passed away, but her best friend’s wedding is looming and she has no choice but to attend.  Filled with fear and remorse for things we are not yet privy to, June lands in her Midwestern hometown, feeling a sense of comfort with the view of corn fields, forests, and the lake.  But even within this environment, there is a feeling of loss, anger, and resentment.  As she reconnects with her old friends, confides in new ones, and lashes out at her mother, she must face that best friend, Harley (Nick Hoover) who, as any best friend would, confronts June, her decisions and the consequences thereof. 

“June Falling Down”  brings us all back to a time in our lives where we find ourselves at crossroads, but in this case, June’s tragedy in life pushes her into unfamiliar territory, a place we hope no young adult would have to experience.  Her emotions are honest as she roller coasters up and down, attempting to understand herself.  This is June’s journey, and it is one she must travel alone to find her individual answers and sense of resolution.

This is Weaver’s film debut and a remarkable one at that.  Her intuitive timing and dialogue paired with scenes capturing no dialogue at all, but eloquence in silence, elevates the film and the story.  Beautifully shot by her partner, Chris Irwin, who also created the outstanding soundtrack, the two bring life to a story that at times waxes and wanes, but always connects you.  Weaver is also responsible for editing this film which stood out artistically, allowing you inside her character’s heart and mind, and  creating a more complete and multidimensional character.

“June Falling Down” is Weaver’s first film, but it most certainly will not be her last.  Through life, she will have many more stories to tell and if “June” is an indication of her storytelling, she’ll be sharing many more meaningful tales in the future.

Check it out on iTunes available now.

Author Lisa Iannucci discusses her newest television, film, and travel guide

July 14th, 2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Author Lisa Iannucci discusses her newest television, film, and travel guide”

Prolific author Lisa Iannucci has taken her love of film, television, and travel and combined them to create an entertainment guide like no other.  “On Location: A Film and TV Lover’s Travel Guide,” released in May, 2018, gives readers an opportunity to not find unusual locations across the U.S. where films have been made, but to also participate in the experiences of the show or film.  I had a chance to talk with Iannucci recently about creating this literary gem. 

Born and raised in Yonkers, N.Y., Iannucci lost her father at a very young age.  Her mother bought her a little black and white television set in which she found comfort and respite.  She shared, “If anything was going on, I would go in my room, shut the door, and watch a movie or a television show.”  Her love of this medium as well as a passion for writing began around the same time, and from that point, she knew what she wanted to do in life. 

Iannucci attended college for screenwriting and then worked for a magazine which was a subsidiary of CBS.  She then married and had three children.  Tragically, she lost her husband, creating a new path for herself and her children.  Iannucci began freelance writing and as her kids got older, she began to travel more.  “Every trip that we did, I tied it into something film and TV related.”  This was the spark to create a niche travel concept leading to her website The Virgin Traveler

Iannucci chuckled as she shared that she gets a few odd looks about the title of her site.  However, her outlook on traveling supports this unique title. In her younger years, she didn’t travel as much as she wanted.  Now she sees things on her own and feels that she is “…doing things all over for the first time.  There are a lot of people out there who don’t really have a chance to travel till later in life…” which is why she wrote “On Location.”  She continued, “It’s ok to start no matter when you’re starting … Just do it.  It’s never too late…”

Iannucci’s book highlights each and every state in the United States, some states obviously having more information than others, but all 50 are covered.  She didn’t want her book to be an encyclopedia of film or television scene locations, though.  There needs to be something interactive to do at that particular location whether it’s a museum, an annual convention, or even a restaurant, you need to experience what the film featured.  For example, Iannucci fondly recalled a BBQ restaurant in the final scene of “Top Gun,” located in California where you can dine and see the piano or purchase memorabilia from the film. 

Statue Alerts are also a part of Iannucci’s book.  Her recent trip to Chicago with her daughter shocked her as they strolled along Navy Pier only to bump into a bronze sculpture of Bob Newhart.  “I literally geeked out when I saw that! … They had the bronze couch next to him and I sat on the couch and pretended to be a patient.”  She also loved being a part of the new Saturday Night Live exhibit in Chicago, sitting on the set of Weekend Update and “chatting” with Jimmy Fallon about her book. 

Photo Credit: Samantha Brinkley

I asked Iannucci what her top three places were in the book and without hesitation she named Jamestown, N.Y., which coincidentally happens to be my hometown!  Her reasoning is easy:  Lucille Ball.  Having attended Lucy Fest which occurs each August, Iannucci laughed aloud as she recalled making a Vitameatavegamin commercial and then stomping grapes.  “The lady next to me threw grapes at me!”  She also shared that this August, Jamestown will be opening the National Comedy Center which will “house the whole history of comedy” and the SNL originators (Aykroyd, Morris, Newman, & Zweibel) along with Amy Schumer will all be on hand to cut the proverbial ribbon.  Iannucci and I then laughed about the debacle of the “old Lucy” versus the “new Lucy” statues in town.

Iannucci immediately continued with her next two choices; San Francisco for the Walt Disney Family Museum and the Roxbury Motel located in the Catskills not far from her current residence in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.  Her love of film history and the behind the scenes information makes the Disney Museum a favorite for her and the creative film and television themed rooms at the Roxbury plunges you into your favorite worlds from Star Trek and Star Wars to the Adams Family where, as she said, “…everywhere you look, no pun intended, there was something creepy and kooky!”

Iannucci’s love of all things in film and television naturally lead to the production of a podcast as well as a newsletter to keep fans up to date.  Reel Travels recently featured an interview with Joanna Wilson who spoke about “A Christmas Story.”  With each podcast, Iannucci, with all of her celebrity contacts, also features a “Celebrity Minute”  where a celebrity shares their favorite location from a movie or show…not from their own, of course!

Iannucci’s book, published by Globe Pequot Press, can be found at Barnes & Noble as well as Amazon, but signed copies can be purchased at Oblong Bookstore in Rhinebeck, NY.  Listen to her podcast for great interviews at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/reeltravels and subscribe to her newsletter for up the moment information about all things travel, TV, and film.

INDISTRY The New Digital Wave of the Future

July 11th, 2018 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “INDISTRY The New Digital Wave of the Future”

If you think there’s no true innovative advances left in the world to make, then you haven’t been introduced to INDISTRY MEDIA and its co-founders Erroll Angara and Mary Landaverde.  I’ve had the pleasure of being introduced to these energetic and driven sisters and it is now my pleasure to introduce them to you.  

In October, 2017, Landaverde and Angara began to pave a new road in the world of technology and consumerism that just might be the next global marketplace.  This new frontier, as CEO Landaverde described to me during one of the company’s recent events partnering with Virgin Hotel in Chicago, is an amalgam of Netflix, Facebook, and Amazon where the consumer interacts with their platform.  Landaverde said,  “[INDISTRY] was about how we get people engaged with the content.  How do we make them not a passive viewer, but an active one.”

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

“Skyscraper” Held together with duct tape

July 11th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Skyscraper” Held together with duct tape”

Ridiculous escapism continues this summer with Dwayne Johnson’s (aka The Rock) newest action thriller “Skyscraper,” written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber who gave us “We’re The Millers” and “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.”  Unfortunately, his latest film doesn’t have the same comedic punch as these films, making it just a standard summer action film.  Think of it as “Backdraft” meets “The Towering Inferno” and all the “Die Hard” films combined, but without the intensity.  

Will Sawyer (Johnson) is a former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader and U.S. war veteran, suffering physically and mentally from a job gone deadly wrong ten years ago.  Losing his leg, but meeting the love of his love, marrying, and having two adorable children, Sawyer now has a new life and career.  As a securities specialist, he is hired to approve a new building’s security and safety measures for insurance purposes.  This Hong Kong building is the tallest in the world, pushing the envelope in every way, but Sawyer soon finds that there’s a conspiracy brewing that endangers his family.  As he physically fights off bad guys, he watches as the building is burning with his family inside.  He’s been framed and double-crossed, but he will go to any length to save his wife and children and clear his name including using duct tape.  Yes, duct tape.  It truly does do it all.

As you can already imagine, the bad guys are after something valuable and only Sawyer can save his family, but his wife, played by Neve Campbell, is one tough and smart woman, protecting her children and staying calm as a cucumber in the face of imminent death.  It’s great to see more roles being created for women and lines uttered by younger girls that are not the stereotypical damsel in distress utterances.  And Campbell and Johnson actually have some chemistry on screen making you believe in this family.  The remainder of the cast, however, are stereotypical with Roland Moller playing Swedish Kores Botha, the muscle of the bad guys, and the tough as nails Hannah Quinlivan whose hair doesn’t tussle as she does.  

“Skyscraper” misses the mark in what could have been a humorous action thriller.  Johnson has the comedic timing to do so and we do see a few glimpses of that, but there are so many missed opportunities that you wonder if Thurber was really trying to make us believe in what we were seeing on the screen.  The stunts are incredibly captivating as Sawyer drives a crane and swings a hook into a high floor of the building, jumping from this machine into the new opening hundreds of floors above, as he holds on with only one muscular arm.  Using his prostethic leg in inconceivable ways, he then uses duct tape on his hands and feet to scale the outside of the building.  Even his character audibly confides that it’s a stupid idea…which gets a chuckle out of the audience.  But alas, the film takes itself too seriously and the ridiculousness is just that—ridiculous.

The body count is high in this one, but the gruesomeness is generally left out.  It’s the camera angles and slick editing that create the intense moments in “Skyscraper,”  but the suspense just cant sustain itself as you look at your watch wondering if its been 2 hours.  There are plenty of old-fashioned fight scenes, some of which I still can’t fully explain where Sawyer can’t outmuscle a slightly built man in one scene, only to take out 5 combat trained thugs in the next scene.  But its Sarah (Campbell) that has one of the best punches of the movie which comes out of the blue making you cheer inside. 

 

“Skyscraper” isn’t going to be remembered a year from now and Dwayne Johnson will not be the next John McClane’s “Die Hard.”  It’s just a summer filler film, a way to get out of the summer heat and into a burning building to cool off. 

2 Stars

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” Exchanges the humor for action

July 11th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Ant-Man and the Wasp” Exchanges the humor for action”

 

It’s summertime, and you know what that means, don’t you? It’s sequel time!

And before “Mama Mia: Here We Go Again” arrives July 20, we have “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” the sequel to “Ant-Man” with returning director Peyton Reed and the familiar faces of Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily, Michael Douglas and Michael Pena.

What doesn’t return is the nonstop laughs, as the sequel falls into the footsteps of every other super-hero movie, dragging out the endless fight scenes, lulling us into boredom. What stood out in the realm of the comic book films for those of us who aren’t huge fans of the genre has become the typical Marvel film.

To read the review in its entirety go to The Daily Journal’s Friday, July 6th edition.

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