Posts in Film Festivals

“Women Represent at the SXSW Film Festival”

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

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

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

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

An Interview with Yeardley Smith at SXSW

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

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

Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

PP:  What advice would you give your younger self?

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

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

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

The audio interview in its entirety here


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best of Sundance 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


“Ophelia” director Claire McCarthy talks contemporary take on Hamlet

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

From the January 26, 2018 publication of FF2 Media:

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

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


Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

U. S. Dramatic Films:

Garrett Hedlund in BURDEN, photo courtesy of the Sundance Institute


U. S. Documentary Films:


World Cinema Dramatic Films:


World Cinema Documentary Films:



BEIRUT, photo courtesy of the Sundance Institute


Documentary Premieres:



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





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


Sundance: A Gamechanger for Women Making Films

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Founder Jessica Hardy preps Chicago Comedy Film Festival for seventh year

November 4th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on “Founder Jessica Hardy preps Chicago Comedy Film Festival for seventh year”

Elkhart, Indiana native Jessica Hardy takes comedy seriously as the founder of the long-running and increasingly successful Chicago Comedy Film Festival (CCFF) since 2010. Taking place at the New 400 Cinema in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago on November 9-11, the festival is one of the few comedy festivals in the country and will screen more than 50 short- and feature-films with Q&As with the filmmakers and talent after each showing. This competitive film festival is what Hardy hopes will be a platform for independent comedy filmmakers to launch their career and “…encourage [them] to go bigger and think bigger.”

To read the entire interview, go to



"The Gangster’s Daughter" to open the Asian Pop-Up Cinema Fall Festival

September 20th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “"The Gangster’s Daughter" to open the Asian Pop-Up Cinema Fall Festival”


On Wednesday, September 20th at 7 pm, the 5th season of the Asian Pop-Up Cinema Fall Festival opens with a charming, bitter-sweet thriller, “The Gangster’s Daughter.”  Directed by Mei-Juin Chen and starring Ally Chiu as Shaowu and Jack Kao as Kiego, the film brings to life a complicated father-daughter story.  Shaowu is a teen, living with her grandmother whengangstersdaughterdad her mother suddenly dies.  Shedding not a tear, a renewed interest in getting to know her father surfaces and the two, estranged for years, are reunited.  The life of a small-time gang leader isn’t exactly the perfect home to raise a teen daughter, but we can’t pick our family.  Shaowu struggles to fit in to her new home and school in Teipei, a drastic change from the remote area of Kinmen.  She longs to identify with her father, fully understanding exactly what he does for a living and using that information to help her fit in.  As any father would do, he sticks up for his daughter, but perhaps in ways most of us wouldn’t fathom.

The characters are wonderfully complex.   We truly get to know this mob boss, his own insecurities, and most importantly his love for his daughter.  Wanting her to be nothing like him, he attempts to guide her, but Shaowu admires him and wants to be his mirror image.  And Shaowu is a typical teen, looking for her identity, but this is complicated by her familial situations.  As they get to know one another, Kiego begins to understand that perhaps a life of crime isn’t in his future, especially when his boss begins to deal drugs.  Even he has a moral boundary that he will not cross.  Juggling his current situation while raising his daughter is profoundly difficult and the dangers are clearly evident.

Chiu is extraordinary in her role as tthegangstersdaughter-1600x900-c-defaulthe tough yet emotionally delicate and needy teen.  Kao personifies a dangerous and intimidating mob boss, but easily lets us see his sweet side just with his smile and a twinkle in his eye.  It is the two actors together that is wonderfully engaging.  They respond to one another with a deep love that only a father and daughter could have.  We grow to love and care about both of them as we watch their relationship develop.  There is something very special about a father and daughter that seems intangible, yet Chiu and Kao find a way to beautifully portray this.

Cinematically, the film is gorgeous.  Chen pays careful attention to every scene to bring us closer to the subjects, allowing us to feel the depth of emotion.  With precision editing, we are truly connected to these characters.  Chen orchestrates an engaging albeit unusual story with all of her filmmaking tools.  Telling a meaningful father-daughter story is no easy task and weaving into the story an element of violence heightens your every sense.

“The Gangster’s Daughter” is an expertly crafted film with extraordinary performances from Chiu and Kao.  While it is stereotypically violent (it is a gangster movie), there are many other elements to give the story charm, wit, and love all in perfect balance.  For tickets, go to  Films will be shown at the AMC River East, 322 E. Illinois St., Chicago

TIFF 2017: The Best of the Fest from The Daily Journal

September 15th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on “TIFF 2017: The Best of the Fest from The Daily Journal”


The 42nd Toronto International Film Festival, which took place this week and finishes Sunday, attracted the brightest stars, featured the most talented filmmakers and rolled out the red carpet to feature 11 days of world and regional premieres and festival darlings.

Tens of thousands of patrons attended this festival, which screens hundreds of films from all over the world. The Daily Journal was a part of the action, discovering new films that will be in theaters very soon for you to see. Check out the best of the fest, and be the first to know what just might be the next Oscar-winning film.


“Molly’s Game”

After a sport-ending injury, a former Olympic mogul skier inadvertently falls into a career of running a high-stakes gambling game. When Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) is accused of illegal operations and associations with the Russian mob, she must find a lawyer who is squeaky clean but willing to defend her. Opens: Nov. 22.



BreatheAnother first-time director, Andy Serkis (who, incidentally, played Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy), brings the true story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, disability advocates, to life. Devastated physically and emotionally from contracting polio, Robin wants nothing more than to die, but his wife won’t let him. Together and with the help of friends, they reinvent life for not just their family, but for all who are severely physically disabled. It’s a beautiful, uplifting and life-affirming film with outstanding and heartfelt performances. Opens: Oct. 13

“Brad’s Status”

Mike White (“Enlightened,” “Beatriz at Dinner” and “School of Rock”) writes and directs one of the most poignant relationship films in decades. Starring Ben Stiller and Austin Abrams as father and son, the two take a trek from California to Massachusetts to tour prestigious universities. Filled with daydreams of what could have or would have been, this exceptionally powerful and entertaining film is a raw and honest look into what we all think but would never admit.

A few other top picks to look for: “3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “The Shape of Water,” “Victoria & Abdul” and “Mudbound.”

DSC03585 2To read the article in its entirety, go to

TIFF’s "The Swan" is a graceful and poetic portrayal of childhood innocence lost

September 11th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “TIFF’s "The Swan" is a graceful and poetic portrayal of childhood innocence lost”


Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir’s feature debut is adapted from Guðbergur Bergsson’s novel of the same name.  Set in a rural, desolate area of Iceland,  a troubled young Sól (Grima Valsdóttir) is sent to her aunt and uncle’s farm to live and learn how to be a good girl again after being caught “thieving.”  This brilliantly creative girl witnesses the realities of farm life, relationships, and nature, and discovers the beauty as well as the repugnant aspects of the world around her.  Told from a child’s point of view, visually and cognitively, “The Swan” is truly a rare beauty, that allows us to not only see, but feel the pains of growing up.

We meet Sól as she and her mother lovingly cuddle in her bed.  It’s a magical moment between the two as Sól’s dependence upon her mother is genuine and sweet.  It is also within this very scene that we hear the cutting words that this precious little girl is no longer thought to be a good girl.  The harshness of these words is stunning and from this point, the viewer is a part of Sól, feelGríma Valsdóttir in THE SWAN - Courtesy of m-appeal (4)ing what she feels, and completely understanding her thoughts and actions. Sól is shipped on a bus by herself to meet her relatives where everything and everyone is foreign to her.  Her keen observational skills accompanied by the accompanying narration of her poetic thoughts and stories, create a uniquely wonderful character.

Sól is quickly introduced to the cycle of nature, human and animal, as she helps deliver a calf and then later witnesses its slaughter.  The realization of survival and the choices we make spill over into her understanding of her college-aged cousin Asta, (Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir) with whom she wants desperately to admire.   However, Asta’s selfishness and morality  make it difficult for Sól to connect for any length of time.  It is her unexpected relationship with the introspective and handsomeFarmhand Jon (Þorvaldur Davíð Kristjánsson) that allows Sól to understand what life is truly about.  There is a big brother feel to his interactions, but Sól teeters between little sister and having a crush on him.  He’s bitter and angry as he attempts to be a writer— the perfect person for Sól to look up to as she too loves to tell stories. Jon’s protective nature is at once evident, but his brutal honesty may be more than this little girl can handle.  This weakening grasp on childhood opens her eyes so she no longer is able to see the world through rose-colored glasses.  They are shattered into shards of reality, a point at which we all have gone through, but perhaps never in such a definitive way.Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir in THE SWAN - Courtesy of m-appeal

“The Swan” is cinematically stunning as it captures the essence of Iceland as well as the graphic brutality of survival. While the beauty is evident, the situation at hand cuts deeply through the superficiality of life to reveal the underbelly of human nature and nature itself.  Grima Valsdóttir is stellar in the role of Sól.  This young girl’s understanding of her role and the ability tGríma Valsdóttir in THE SWAN - Courtesy of m-appeal (1)o express such complicated emotions and thoughts without uttering a word is nothing short of remarkable.  Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir’s portrayal of the spoiled and conflicted young woman with a broken heart and sometimes heartless, is equally as powerful creating an amazing balance of personality with young Sól. Þorvaldur Davíð Kristjánsson gives a meaningfully captivating performance as he too is trying to understand life and relationships.

“The Swan” is gorgeously poetic and deeply meaningful creating one of the most powerful, haunting, and mesmerizing portrayals of transitioning between childhood innocence and young adulthood.  With stunning cinematography, deft direction, and poignant writing, the story sweeps you away, reminding us of the balance in life and the complexities of growing up.Gríma Valsdóttir in THE SWAN - Courtesy of m-appeal (3)

Sun 10 Sept 1:45PM Jackman Hall, Public Screening (World Premiere)
Tue 12 Sept 11:30AM TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 4, Public Screening
Wed 13 Sept 4:45PM Scotiabank 6, P&I Screening
Sun 17 Sept 12:30PM Jackman Hall, Public Screening

TULIPANI: LOVE, HONOUR AND A BICYCLE Blossoms with love and humor

September 11th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “TULIPANI: LOVE, HONOUR AND A BICYCLE Blossoms with love and humor”


Seeing the world through rose-colored glasses never looked as beautiful as it does in “Tulipani: Love, Honour and a Bicycle.”  Oscar-winning writer and director Mike van Diem makes a comeback with this sweet and whimsical love story starring Ksenia Solo, Gijs Naber, and Giancarlo Giannini.  van Diem came to the project as a “crisis manager” after the original director left suddenly due to health reasons.  (Read van Diem’s interview here)  After a re-write and a few casting changes, van Diem creates an engaging, comedic, and oftentimes bitter sweet tale.

Upon her mother’s death bed, Anna (Solo) travels to her homeland of Italy from Canada to learn about her unknown origins.  The “madonna” is met with open arms as she learns about her father and her real mother, all the while explaining to a police detective (with her singed buttocks) how she isn’t responsible for the death of a former mafia ring leader.  “Tulipani” expertly brings us back and forth between the here and now and the days of yesteryear, recreating this complicatedly funny and downright romantic story.

We meet Gauke (Naber) early in his life as he escapes the soggy Netherlands after the historic flood of 1953, on a bicycle with a basket full of tulip bulbs, vowing to find a new— and drier— place.  As luck would have it, at the same time, he meets and falls in love/lust with Ria (Anneke Sluiters) also vowing to find her when he is established in his new home.  Gauke with Olympic speed and ability on a bicycle, lands in Puglia, Italy and, not speaking the language, somehow  puts down his roots in Puglia, Italy.  Through the kindness of others, this tall, blonde man who doesn’t foreigner who has never eaten spaghetti (properly), develops friendships and a home.  Ria, with a babe in arms (remember, I said the word “lust” in the beginning) shows up and the two seem to have the perfect little family and life.  That is, until the mob interferes.  All hell rains down, creating havoc, but again, van writer/director Diem finely balances this open display of heartbreak and tragedy with the brilliant comedic effects using his current day character actors to their fullest potential.

There’s always a surprising lightness to this story given some of the events of their lives.  The pace of the story and tempo of his characters interactions allow the film to flow effortlessly.  Solo has a fine-tuned performance as she embodies the Canadian-Italian beauty counter-balanced by Michele Venitucci as the now-grown Vito.  Their connection is palpable as they stay at arms length during their ordeal of tripping down memory lane to tie up loose ends.  Young Vito, in flashbacks, simply steals the screen and every scene he’s in.  He’s adorable as he creates this boy who admires Gauke to no ends.  The connection between the adult Vito and the young boy is absolutely real.  We truly believe this is the grown Vito with his appearance, interactions, and mannerisms.  Naber couldn’t have been cast any better and given his Dutch heritage, he fits the role perfectly.  Giannini and Lidia Vitale who plays Vito’s mother, give this film the levity it needs, accentuating that not only Italians love a good story, we all do.  Giannini, gruff initially (read the interview to find out why!) portrays another level of character itching to surface.  His comedic timing is unconventional and refreshing, setting the stage for the rest of the cast to follow and have fun.  It is their interaction and reactions that remind us that stories and history are frequently blown out of proportion for the sake of that interesting and entertaining story.  Who would have thought that Giannini had the makings of a comic actor!

van Diem pays careful attention to every detail in this film including the ability to capture Italy and the historic flood in 1953 in the Netherlands.  Coordinating with the cinematographer with precision gives this film that overall lightness to a sometimes tragic story.  And it is with this ability that we not only love the characters, we are invested in them and their home country.  van Diem said, “If there’s one feeling you get from watching this film, it’s that we do love Italy and we do love Italians.”  Grazie Sr. van Diem e salute!

“Tulipano” is the ultimate immigrant comedic love story filled with lore, exaggeration, and passion.  van Diem’s touch with stellar performances create a technicolor dream story.


"High Fantasy" confronts gender and race bias head on

September 8th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"High Fantasy" confronts gender and race bias head on”


On the heels of “Get Out,” the racially charged science-fiction/horror film comes “High Fantasy” delving into the poignant and socially relevant race and gender issues confronting the world today.  Jenna Bass directs and co-writes this feature film, her second, capturing 4 young adults on a camping trip in the Northern Cape of South Africa.  The care-free, fun-loving group find themselves having swapped bodies and deal with the emotional impact of seeing themselves as a different race or sex.  The social implications of such a situation are immediately intriguing if not insightful as the group attempts to find meaning behind the transformation.

While South African have their own stories and history of politics, wars, and rebellions, the concept of taking advantage of groups of people and how we view one another is quite universal.  Crossing all cultural boundaries, Bass brings to the forefront the concept of land ownership and reparations as she gives each of her characters a unique platform to show their perspectives.  All of this is captured using today’s universal technology and ideas—an iPhone and selfies.

It’s a carefree time for these young adults as they joke around, ready to start their adventure of camping on Lexi’s family’s farmland.  We quickly cut to individual interviews with a stark white background as we get a glimpse into their future events.  One by one, they report that the fun and laughter comes to a screeching halt when the four wake up one morHigh_Fantasy_04ning, realizing they have switched bodies.  The story flips back and forth between the events that occurred and the individuals’ recounting of their feelings about it.  The impact and sometimes lack of impact is simply enlightening at times and maddening at others.  The story unfolds rapidly as the four seem to have lost their edit mode, truly revealing their thoughts about race and gender.

“High Fantasy” doesn’t feel rehearsed—there’s an element of “Blair Witch Project” to it, but the story goes much deeper.  And the emotional range goes from one extreme to the other as do the personal revelations.  These young people are wrestling with their histories, their ancestry, and their futures, creating a complicated portrayal of life in South Africa.  Xoli (Qondiswa James) is the most outspoken and brash of the group, never shy about her opinions, but rather unseeing from another’s viewpoint.  Her judgmental and unbending perspective is representative of many people we all know.  All of these characters seem to be a compilation of someone we know.  Tatiana (Liza Scholtz) gives us a softer and more touching portrayal of what it means to be black and female in South Africa.  Tatiana becomes Thami (Nala Khumalo) and gains an even deeper understanding of the opposite sex.  Thami becomes female and his insight is the most poignant of the group, but it is Lexi’s understanding that creates the dynamic and jumping off point of conversation about race, racism, and our future.

This is a strong cast of characters.  Responsible for portraying  not only their one character, but also another’s personality within their body, as well as acting as camera person is remarkable.  The weight of the topic and the requirements for these actors is simply extraordinary and they each carry the weight with ease.  Thami andHigh_Fantasy_05 Lexi stand out as their personalities change the most.  They portray this with body movement, voice, and mannerisms, paying careful attention to the suprasegmental features of speech.  While we are seeing Thami and Lexi, we have no question that it is actually their inhabitants, Tatiana and Xoli, respectively.

To find a film that can start a deep and honest conversation while using an initially perceived humorous body swapping concept as the vehicle driving the concept forward, is a unique gem.  Stylistically, the film feels as if we are truly privy to the group’s camping expedition and the actors sublimely take on the personality of their inhabitants.  Race and racism as well as gender discrimination and male power is as much a part of the conversation as it was 100 or 200 years ago and just as vital to understanding.  “High Fantasy,” while frustrating in that there was more to be discovered by each character, it still starts a much needed conversation long after the credits roll.



Oscar-winning director van Diem is back: This time, he’s stirring up passion all over Europe

September 3rd, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “Oscar-winning director van Diem is back: This time, he’s stirring up passion all over Europe”


The 2017 Toronto International Film Festival isn’t just for big names and big stars — it also finds and polishes the hidden gems of the film industry.

As TIFF begins next week, films from all over the world will be vying for the spotlight. In years past, several featured films have gone on to procure Oscar fame — and this year promises to have a similar outcome. One lesser-known film that I believe will shine is “Tulipani, Love Honour and a Bicycle,” a Dutch-Canadian-Italian romantic comedy directed by Academy Award-winner Mike van Diem.

I had the pleasure of talking with this talented writer and director about the tumultuous path this film and his life have taken after winning that little gold statue for his first feature film “Karakter” (1997).

To read the interview in its entirety as it was published in the Friday, Sept. 1, 2017 edition of The Daily Journal, go HERE

"The Unknown Girl" A realistic and visceral experience in guilt

August 28th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “"The Unknown Girl" A realistic and visceral experience in guilt”


Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the brothers responsible for a myriad number of films, most recently the Academy Award nominated “Two Days, One Night” starring Marion Cotillard, have brought us yet another intriguingly disturbing study of personal psychology with “The Unknown Girl.”  As a young and quickly rising general practitioner, Jenny Davin (Adele Haenel) makes a fateful decision one evening at her clinic to not answer a frantic knock at the door by a young woman.  She is found dead the next morning.  Ridden with guilt, Jenny is consumed with finding out not only what happened to her, but to also give her an identity.  It becomes a crime-thriller, but never dismisses the feeling of possible causality for this woman’s death.

The Dardenne brothers, over the course of decades in creating deeply meaningful and relatable films, sat down to talk with me at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival to discuss this film and working together.  Their light-hearted yet thoughtful demeanor immediately alerted me as to why these siblings can continue to create such beautiful works of art.  While I don’t speak French (there was an interpreter), the artistry in their communication style was wonderfully overpowering, communicating what mere words cannot.

Screen Shot 2017-08-28 at 12.54.17 PM

Reel Honest Reviews (RHR):  The psychology behind this film is intense and extraordinary, particularly as we, as humans, deal with remedying guilt.  What was the impetus for this film?

Luc Dardenne (LD):  The beginning of this film was not based on reality.  We were more interested in a situation where somebody is responsible for the death of somebody else but we don’t actually kill [that] person.  We imagined a doctor because the work of a doctor is to save lives…We took this story of a person feeling guilty for kind of killing somebody so she needs to find her name to in a way save her.

Jean-Pierre Dardenne (JPD):  We hope that Jenny’s obsession is shared by each of the [viewers].  When we made the film, the migrant crisis had already begun, so the young girl in the film dies near a river…it’s a metaphor for all those immigrants who died…and are without a name.  It is a necessity to give them a name.

RHR:  Why a female doctor instead of a male?

LD:  We never hesitated if it should be a man or a woman.  It was always a woman.  What we hesitated about was…having it be an older woman, but we couldn’t develop the film that we wanted to make [with an older woman].  We happened to meet Adele and we realized that she could be our doctor.  Her naiveté.  Her naiveté of her face.  We thought we could construct the film around her.

JPD:  The first time [we] met [Adele] was at an author’s society.  It was really her face that made [us] feel like we could film around that face…and the way she could communicate with the other characters.  She’s a French actress, but she’s not really well-known here in the Americas.  She was a child movie star [and completed] three or four movies before our movie.  Two years ago, she won the Cesar for best actress.

RHR:  Guilt is the driving force behind Jenny’s actions.  Can you tell me about this part of human psychology and how you incorporated it?

LD:  We thought that Jenny’s ability of being possessed by this dead girl, but didn’t want to show this possession by showing some kind of supernatural effects, but more by showing that she does the same gestures again and again.  [For example], she often shows on her phone the picture of the unknown girl.  She doesn’t stop that.  She doesn’t have a life anymore apart from this obsession.

RHR:  I’m not familiar with all of your films, but perhaps there are some stylistic similarities.  In this film, there is a sense of simplicity within the complexity of human actions.  The walls are stark white or orange.  There aren’t any extraneous or distracting information particularly when someone is talking.  You’re completely focused on their face and their words.

JPD:  It’s not typical.  We gave a lot of importance to the dialogue because each character must speak and the quest is to give birth to speak the truth. So to talk in silence is very important in this film.  The abstraction of the setting [augments] that.

LD:  It’s our target.  When you see her face and the wall, the white wall, the viewer goes to her head.  It’s difficult to explain that, but we felt that and we tried.

RHR:  Yes, there’s not music overlaid, is there?

JPD:  It accentuates what’s happening in the film.

RHR:  I have to ask about working together as siblings.  I know what my brother and I are like.  What is it like for the two of you when you disagree?  I’m sure you have differences of opinions.

JPD:  No, never! [laughs]

LD:  It happens that we work together and that we speak a lot and we have the same intuition.

JPD:  I believe it’s because we happen to [have met] a theater director and to start working together.  He was like our spiritual father.

LD:  Maybe it’s better not to know!  [laughs]

We continued to discuss the differences in medical care and practices in Belgium versus the United States, all of us intrigued by the other’s situation.  I’d like to thank the interpreter for her skills in communicating my questions and relaying the brothers’ responses.  I’d also like to thank Jean-Pierre and Luc for their time and for their efforts in using English which were extraordinary.

Screen Shot 2017-08-28 at 12.55.11 PM


BABY DRIVER: A wild ride

June 28th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “BABY DRIVER: A wild ride”


Edgar Wright’s (“Shaun of the Dead”) much-anticipated film “Baby Driver” which premiered at the SXSW Film Festival has crashed into theaters everywhere this week.  This fast-paced, high intensity crime thriller takes you on the ride of your life with every moment accompanied by an amazing and fitting song.  While it’s not a musical, it frequently comes close.  There’s even a sweet love story amidst the shooting, killing, and robbing.  In other words, this movie has it all!


Doc (Kevin Spacey) is the intimidating leader of the pack, employing “experts” to carry out bank robberies with the getaway car driven by a young and very talented boy affectionately known as “Baby” (Ansel ElBaby-Driver-Baby-with-Sunglasses-at-Tablegort). His unique style isn’t endearing to the rest of the team, but while plugged into his music playlist, he proves himself irreplaceable.  Doc’s impeccable care and coordination of his constantly changing teams brings him a situation to reunite Buddy (Jon Hamm), Darling (Elza Gonzalez), and Bats (Jamie Foxx) with Baby to pull off the ultimate heist promising to release Baby from his debts to Doc.  With trust always an underlying issue, things go awry as the crossing and double-crossing for money and love keep the story going at warp speed.


“Baby Driver” is breathtakingly captivating from the very first scene as Baby plugs in his music and we are privy to his world as he perceives it.  Driving the getaway car, being chased by a myriad number of police cars, his flawless maneuvering of the stick shift sports car makes you slide in your seat as he careens around every corner.  The music is as much of a character in this film as the actual people.  Wright carefully selects songs from decades past to present to add to the tension or to do the exact opposite—make you laugh.  It’s truly odd, but in the best way possible.


The story centers around Baby and his hearing impaired grandfather who Baby cares for.  Their relationship is absolutely endearing, particularly as we get to know Baby and his background.  On the other end of the spectrum are the degenerates Buddy and Bats whose intellect is compromised as are their morals and scruples.  This makes for hilariously disturbing banter and dialogue among this strange group of thieves.  This type of humor interwoven into astonishing chase scenes that make your pulse skyrocket and action-packed fighting that is as gruesome as a Tarantino film is what makes this movie so different from any other crime thriller.


“Baby Driver” has plenty of car chase scenes, but they never become repetitive.  In fact, you not only anticipate the next one, you look forward to it.  And you can’t wait to hear what song will be played next!  The pacing of the interaction is just as remarkable particularly when Spacey’s “Doc” is in the scene.  He’s menacing and unpredictable, using sarcasm to cut quickly and deeply while making you laugh at another’s expense.  The film is filled with juxtaposing concepts and stories and it is Baby’s innocent infatuation with Debora (Lily James), the waitress, that creates yet another interesting component to this mind-blowing film.


The cast of “Baby Driver” is stellar.  Elgort’s portrayal of “Baby” is going to make him one of the most recognizable rising stars in Hollywood.  This kid can act.  Hamm, Spacey, and Foxx have a chemistry together that is explosive and James’ understated performance is exactly what this film needed for balance.  Wright writing and direction of these talented actors along with amazing cinematography to bring the viewer into the action and tension gives the film heart.  We actually care about the criminals and root for the bad guys, although there are levels of “bad.”


“Baby Driver” is an impressive and highly stylized love story/crime thriller, combining  music, violence, action, and unique characters that will have your heart racing as fast as the Subaru Impreza WRX STI.


*Warning—it’s very violent


4 Stars

MAUDIE : artistic love story for the ages

June 23rd, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review, Weekly DVD 0 thoughts on “MAUDIE : artistic love story for the ages”



Written by:  Sherry White

Directed by:  Aisling Walsh

Starring Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke

Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis may not be a name you immediately recognize, but it soon will be.  Born in the early 1900’s with rheumatoid arthritis, a severe degenerative condition, this rather sickly and awkward looking woman struggled in every aspect of her life.  But her struggle became a story that inspired the new film “Maudie,” written by Sherry White and directed by Aisling Walsh.  The film is cinematic splendor as Sally Hawkins recreates Maud and  co-star Ethan Hawke portrays Everett in one of his strongest performances yet.  This unusual love story tells an equally unique life story filled with courage, strength, inspiration and beauty.

Maud’s physical differences have always brought judgement upon her, not only from outsiders, but sadly, from her own family as well.  She is dismissed, feeling worthless, but this bright and witty woman strikes out on her own, yearning to prove them all wrong.  There is a sense that there is another deeper, more sensitive story bubbling just below the surface, but that has yet to be revealed.  Answering an “ad” posted at the local store for a housecleaner, Maud meets Everett (Hawke), the local fishmonger.  He reluctantly hires her and the man of few words attempts to keep her at a distance.  Over the course of time, Maud is allowed to blossom which in turn creates a connection and courtship between the two.  To say it is an unusual situation and “dating” process, is to put it mildly, creating wonderful humorous moments.   The pair is odd, but the beauty from within easily becomes the only thing visible.  Their relationship, however, has some very rocky parts, as all relationships do.  As we witness this journey seen primarily through Maud’s eyes, we feel her pain and her anger, but also laugh and cry with her as well.

“Maudie” explores this creative woman’s trials and tribulations to become one of the most recognizable folk artists in the area, but it also presents what it must feel like to be judged by an outwardly different appearance.  Maud is exceptionally bright, organized, and has a wickedly sarcastic sense of humor that those around her find the verbal sword to be quite sharp.  We truly get to know who this woman is and what she has endured, particularly within her family.  While there is heartbreak, there is also laughter.  It’s an extraordinary slice of life that reaches your very soul, allowing you to experience everything that Maud feels and does.  Rarely do you find such a compelling story with well-rounded characters that you immediately understand and connect.  In fact, you are lost in their world, forgetting that you are watching a movie.

It is under the direction of Walsh that Hawke and Hawkins create such captivating characters.  Both actors seem to connect whole-heartedly with their rather unorthodox roles as they beautifully reveal their personalities.  Hawkins embodies the character of Maud, exhibiting with finesse a body riddled with arthritis.  Her ability to convey the myriad number of emotions and wounds not yet healed from past tragedies is simply exceptional.  Her delivery of parenthetical quips and demonstrating that she doesn’t buy into gender inequality as she goes against the grain of the locals just endears us to her even more.  Casting Hawke opposite Hawkins is a choice that pays off as he becomes this tight-lipped, uneducated and unsocialized loner.   Hawke exudes power not seen before in other films as he becomes this sometimes unlikeable and other times lovable very real person.  Together, Hawke and Hawkins play to one another’s strengths and catapult this story to the highest level.

The film is also cinematically stunning, bringing you through the rolling, desolate country roads near the sea.  We are transported to a bygone era that is dusty and primitive, influencing and inspiring the very art that Maud will forever be known for.  “Maudie” orchestrates every element in filmmaking to create not just an entertaining film, but also a meaningful and  magical one.

Experience the magic of “Maudie” and travel the trails of Maud Lewis’ past, riding an emotional roller coaster ride filled with unusual and richly layered characters.  “Maudie” is a timeless love story that will leave you breathless, speechless, and inspired.  You can’t ask for more than that in a film.

*Bring tissues








"The Hero" Creates real and dramatic power with Elliott leading the way

June 16th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews, Review, Weekly DVD 0 thoughts on “"The Hero" Creates real and dramatic power with Elliott leading the way”



Written by Brett Haley and Marc Basch

Directed By Brett Haley

Starring:  Sam Elliott, Nick Offerman, and Laura Prepon

Brett Haley, the daring and brilliant man behind the curtain of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” is back in action with “The Hero,” starriSamElliottHerong the renowned actor Sam Elliott.  The film is a character study of Lee Hayden (Elliott), a man waning in his career as he ages and is diagnosed with cancer.  Lee  wrestles with the legacy he will leave behind and attempts to reconcile broken relationships.  It’s a self-reflective, heartfelt, and often-times humorous film showing us how we are connected as we witness Lee looking out over the horizon of life.


Haley and Offerman spoke with me at the SXSW Film Festival a few months ago.  The inspiration for the  film is all Sam Elliott, Haley gushed.   After working with him  in “I’ll See You in My Dreams” he said, “I’m inspired by him not only as an actor, but as a human being.  He deserved his own movie where he was in every scene and it was about him and he got to show off what an amazing actor he really is.”  He and co-writer Marc Basch came up with Elliott’s character as something “…he could sink his teeth into…and a non-Western where he’s not on a horse.”

Elliott’s character of Lee is incredibly real with the most raw and believable emotions that are true to life.  “The Hero” reminds us that time zips past us as we have neglected aspects of life that are most dear.   Haley identified with “Lee” even though he admits he’s still quite young.  “We are always looking back on our lives and what it means to make a mark.  He ends up really thinking about his personal reheroemotoinlationships which, at the end of the day, are what really matters.”

“The Hero” allows us to see the world from Lee’s perspective—his hopes, his dreams and his failures—but most importantly it takes us inside his heart.  We feel the regret and the pain it has caused, but we also see the glimmer of love and life, never wanting to be extinguished, no matter how old the candles on the cake say we are.

Meeting and falling in love with a much younger woman, Charlotte (Laura Prepon), takes Lee on a fast-paced ride that he wasn’t quite prepared for.  Their relationship is simply beautiful as they both allow each other to see things differently.  Relationships are at the heart of this film and none is more painful than that of Lee and his adult daughter Lucy (Krysten Ritter).  As they bare their souls, the open wounds have obviously not healed, the resentment and remorse heartbreakingly shine theropreponhrough.  However, as in life, there is also humor in “The Hero.”  It’s more situational humor thanks to social media and Offerman’s character.  Haley added,  “He’s way more than Ron Swanson.  I wanted to give him something that he could do that was way outside of that box.  I didn’t have him do any woodworking or steak eating.  He plays a pot dealer and a very unique one!” Offerman and Elliott, on screen, are as comfortable with one another as two brothers as they live, reminisce, and support one another.

Elliott is simply extraordinary.  His small, yet vital roles in “Grandma,” and “I’ll See You In My Dreams” tipped us off as to this man’s true skills, but never have I seen such a passionate and powerful performance—certainly Oscar-worthy.  Offerman confided, “The ‘business’ would say to you, ‘Why don’t you have some younger, better looking people?’  And I would say to them, ‘There’s no one better looking than Sam Elliott.  People over 45 also have lives that we are interested in.”   Haley’s instinct to cast him as the lead truly allows this remarkable actor to show his depth of skill.  Elliott brings you directly to him, looking you in the eye, making you a part of the scene.  His emotions are palpable as you are connected with him and his situation.  We all have regrets in life, crossroads where we perhaps took a left turn instead of the right one and Elliott conveys this understanding with expert skill.

IMG_1346Offerman creates a  “unique” character with skill and charm.  There is no doubt that his character and Lee are long-time friends.  While he adds the comedic lift to the film, Offerman shows us he has the depth and understanding to give us this meaningful performance.  Prepon’s portrayal of “Charlotte” is equally as layered and complex, one that you don’t typically see for women her age.  Yes, she’s beautiful, but her character is also smart, well-read, creative, and wise beyond her years.  Seeing Katharine Ross, Elliott’s real-life wife, in this film as well as Ritter with her small but sublime performance as a dejected and hardened daughter gives “The Hero” the golden touch.

“The Hero” is a beautiful and sincere look at life, regrets, and the spark that flickers from within, wanting to continue to shine.  Haley has done it again.  He has created a film with heart about a character that is real and, get ready for this, is over 40.  In fact, he’s over 70.  My sincere gratitude goes to daring filmmakers like Haley who write films for older actors and then remind us of what’s truly important in life—our relationships.

To watch the interview at SXSW with Offerman and Haley check out YOUTUBE INTERVIEW


4/4 Stars



‘Wink’ director tests waters of short films

June 12th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “‘Wink’ director tests waters of short films”

WINK still (lean on tub)

(Published in FF2 Media, June 12, 2017)

Now in its 20th year, the Los Angeles-based film festival, Dances With Films (DWF), lives up to its words of conception: a festival where ‘who you know’ doesn’t matter, but the quality of your work does. First-time writer and director of a narrative short film, German-born Monika Petrillo jumps into the filmmaking waters with Wink. Her film’s topic sounds a bit unusual—a frustrated and lonely suburban housewife and a goldfish—but Petrillo laughingly said, “How can you go wrong with a beautiful woman and a goldfish?”

The inspiration behind not only this film, but Petrillo’s decision to become a filmmaker was her godmother, Li Erben.  Erben’s late husband, Russian-born French film director Victor Vicas had written a story about a blonde, a winking goldfish and a bath.  After hearing that description, Petrillo could see the whole film. “I came home…and before I knew it, I had written the whole 12-page script.”


‘To the Moon and Back’ tackles politics of Russian Adoption Ban

June 12th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “‘To the Moon and Back’ tackles politics of Russian Adoption Ban”



(As published in the June 12th edition of FF2 Media)

Now in its 20th year, the Los Angeles-based film festival, Dances With Films (DWF), lives up to its words of conception: a festival where ‘who you know’ doesn’t matter, but the quality of your work does. To the Moon and Back by Susan Morgan Cooper is a heartbreaking look at two intersecting narratives about the Russian Adoption Ban leaving approximately 259 children, 75% disabled, stuck in limbo in their adoption process to American parents.  The reason?  Politics.

It’s a “chess game between Obama and Putin,” Cooper explained.  Cooper hopes that her film can help make changes in the lives of these children and in Miles and Carol Harrington’s lives, the blame upon which Putin placed this ban.

Cooper didn’t start out directing impactful and life-changing documentaries.  She began as an actress and had a small role in a Clint Eastwood film.  However, she says, “I just never had the passion for acting and one day someone took me into an editing room and all of a sudden, the lights turned on! You can manipulate an actor’s performance with timing and a reaction shot.  So I started being involved in editing.”

To read the interview in its entirety, go to FF2 Media


Listen to the entire Audio interview

"Wink" brings a little something special to an ordinary day

June 6th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “"Wink" brings a little something special to an ordinary day”

WINK still (lean on tub)

Dances With Films is well underway, but there are plenty of great films yet to make their world premiere!  “Wink,” a new short film by Monika Petrillo, is one of these exceptional films that comprises an extraordinary line up at this year’s festival.

Melanie (Caitlin Brandes) appears to live the perfect life in her perfectly kept house with a perfectly manicured yard in the perfect little neighborhood.   This is the epitome of suburbia.  Today is her anniversary, but the evening does not work out as planned thanks to her distracted, workaholic  husband.  Not allowing his negligence to get theWINK still (dinner) better of her, she buries her emotions and continues on with her evening.  What happens the next day spices up her life in a most unusual way, but is this something she can tell her husband?  Or will this just be her little secret?


“Wink” is a beautiful story filled with an array of emotions while using very little dialogue.  Brandes is exceptional as she portrays this bored housewife looking for and needing a little attention from her not-so-perfect husband (Michael Chandler).  Her eyes, with just a glance or a sudden twinkle, engage you and connect you to her.   Quite interestingly, there is a parallel life being lead by the little goldfish she is caring for…she, like the goldfish, seems trapped and confined.  As she gives this little guy a “change of scenery,” she also finds a way to add a little spice to her day.  And in a blink of an eye, we all share her secret.

The story itself is beautiful and rich, but Petrillo’s attention to each and every detail make this short film quite remarkable.  The set design is impeccable, carefully matching the personality of this young couple.  The colors are equally rich and the piano music playing in the background add a tasteful touch to every scene.  With this dialogue-light film, the body language and the extraneous sounds are used to augment  Melanie’s emotions— from the incessant twirling of a napkin ring to the tapping of a spoon on a tea cup, Melanie’s reactions are familiar and simply sublime.

Petrillo’s screenwriting and editing is so succinct that by the end of the film, you feel as if you are in on Melanie’s secret.  I dare you not to have a smirk on your face as you watch the final scene.  And I guarantee that you will never hear or utter the words, “How was your day?” the same way again.  While Melanie’s day was a very unique one, we are reminded to make each and every day a little special.

Photo Monika Petrillo (2 MB)

“Wink” premieres in L.A. at Dances With Films on Tuesday, June 6 at 5 pm as a part of the Fusion Shorts Program.  For more information and tickets, go to  Follow “Wink” on Facebook at

Be sure to check back for an interview with the filmmaker with FF2 Media in the coming days.



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