Posts in Review

“Fighting With My Family” A knock-out story and performances

February 22nd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Fighting With My Family” A knock-out story and performances”

Stories from real life provide some of the best material for films, and Stephen Merchant’s newest film as writer and director, “Fighting With My Family,” starring Florence Pugh, Jack Lowden and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, is a prime example.

Ricky Knight (Nick Frost) and his wife, Julia (Lena Headey), former small-time wrestlers in Norwich, England, dream of their children, Paige (Pugh) and Zak (Lowden), one day becoming WWE champions, an extension of their own lost dreams.

“Fighting With My Family” is a tale of shattered dreams and picking up the pieces as the family grows and learns. Merchant’s comedy is a perfect amalgam of drama and humor as it depicts the Knights’ exceptional yet ordinary lives.To read the review in its entirety as published in the Friday, February 22nd, 2019 edition of The Daily Journal go to THE DAILY JOURNAL

“Isn’t It Romantic” The Anti-Rom-Com Rom-Com

February 15th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Isn’t It Romantic” The Anti-Rom-Com Rom-Com”

“Isn’t It Romantic” is the anti-rom-com rom-com written by a trio of women, Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox and Katie Silberman, and stars Rebel Wilson and Liam Hemsworth.

The premise is a familiar one as Natalie (Wilson) hits her head and is knocked out, waking up in an alternate world where everything looks perfect and smells like roses, and her mission in order to get back to her world is to fall in love. Most of the comedic elements are shown in the trailer, but there’s a few more laughs to be had and, more importantly, a welcomed lesson to be learned at the end.

Natalie is an architect relegated to creating the benign and lost structure of a parking garage. Her position at the firm and the structure she is charged with creating definitely parallels her own self-image and level of importance. As in all romantic comedies, our main character has a few life lessons to learn which hit you square between the eyes, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

COLD PURSUIT, Dark Humor in Familiar Scenario for Neeson

February 8th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “COLD PURSUIT, Dark Humor in Familiar Scenario for Neeson”

“Cold Pursuit,” starring Liam Neeson, takes revenge to a new level in this chilling thriller. Nels (Neeson), a snowplow driver located in a remote ski village area in Colorado, discovers his son, Kyle (Micheal Richardson) has died in an apparent overdose.

Finding his death was no accident, Nels seeks revenge upon all who were responsible, leading him to a deadly and powerful henchman.

First, this film is completely ridiculous in its premise and execution, pun intended. However, unlike so many films in this genre, there’s an element of humor in it. Be warned, it’s a very dark humor, but humor nonetheless.
To read the review in its entirety, go to THE DAILY JOURNAL

“Words From A Bear” The eloquence, history, and spirit of N. Scott Momaday

January 29th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Words From A Bear” The eloquence, history, and spirit of N. Scott Momaday”

Pulitzer Prize-winning Native American author N. Scott Momady’s story comes to full living cinematic splendor thanks to the documentary storytelling skills of Jeffrey Palmer in his directorial debut “Words From A Bear.” Momaday, a Native American from the Kiowa Tribe, has had a remarkable life which resonates with incredible strength and emotion as we walk back in time, following his footsteps, and experiencing his youth, elders’ lessons, and finally his own teachings. “Words From A Bear” is a vibrant and mesmerizing story connecting us with him, our own history, humanity, and most importantly the land upon which we are charged with caring.

We meet the elderly, yet very mentally spry Momaday, now seated in a wheelchair, having his photo taken professionally. With a candidly sly comment, we are at once enchanted by his voice and his knowing smirk. The award-winning author holds nothing back as he relays his ancestry and their storytelling techniques, describing these memories of history. Using archival photos and sweeping landscape cinematography, we hold images of the Great Plains, the desert, and the blood that was shed over the years, yet the spirit remains strong within those who are connected.

As we see these images, Momaday’s balanced and symmetrical utterances elegantly glide over your mind and heart, saturating and satisfying your thirst for knowledge while the words comfort you. Momaday’s open portrayal of who he is and how he came to be is luxuriously poetic. It strikes an intrinsic chord as we watch images of a man, his world, and nature as it changes with great meaning over the decades.

Never have I been transported, imaginatively whisked away by a voice, a tone, a timbre as I was by Momaday’s meaningfully lyrical and emotive descriptions. I could feel the texture of the surroundings he described as an inexplicable emotion welled up within me. Artistically, Palmer then skillfully interjects interviews with celebrities who have known Momaday and his writings such as Robert Redford, Jeff and Beau Bridges and Native American scholars across the continent. This gives viewers just a sample of the impact Momaday’s work has had on our literary world.

“Words From A Bear” provides a better understanding of the plight of Native Americans and the beautiful craft of verbal storytelling. While literature, as pointed out in the film, is a storytelling craft in writing, so too is it in the word of mouth form. To listen to Momaday’s stories as he recalls his childhood and his name’s origin, he elicits a focus with his calming presence, engaging you as he reassures you that there is hope within the understanding of nature.

Palmer has a keen sense of storytelling as he gives Momaday his time and space on screen, but he augments every aspect with not only the interviews from celebrities and scholars, but also with capturing landmarks from the past, photos from bygone days, and graphic art as he maintains Momaday’s voice and words. We step not only back in time to understand an unwelcoming and intolerant era but also get to know Momaday’s direct ancestors and their personalities through eloquent and rich descriptions. We see through oral storytelling how the ancestors live on via this art and their spirit.

It is the spirit, the strong spirit in his voice, that we gain insight into our own past, his past, and how we are all connected. As Redford said, Momaday has a “spiritual poetic connection to the land” and “Rock Tree Boy” as he was named by an elder, is our connection. “It is the spirit that counts and it is the spirit that is indomitable,” says Momaday and he is truly an indomitably spirit.

I am truly grateful for my own discovery of this great man, his essence, his knowledge, his words, and most importantly, his spirit. I am changed by having seen this film, gaining an understanding of a history I didn’t fully know and somehow identifying with his story. This is a film to connect us all and give us a greater understanding of who we are and who we can be. And it is with sincere gratitude that I give to Jeffrey Palmer for bringing this man and his story to everyone.

“Words From A Bear” premiered today, January 29th at the Sundance Film Festival and will continue to have 3 additional screenings. Go to SUNDANCE.ORG for more information and watch for an upcoming interview with Jeffrey Palmer!

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” Beautifully portrays the horrors of man’s new era

January 28th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” Beautifully portrays the horrors of man’s new era”

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” is the third film by Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky to address the environment, preceded by “Manufactured Landscapes” (2006) and “Watermark” (2013). The film, narrated in layman’s terms by Alicia Vikander, gives us a stunning visual education of our current world’s state as we leave behind the Halocene Era, one which nature provides changes, to the Anthropocene Era, where man is responsible for all of them.

The opening scene is visually gripping as you are drawn to the flames like a moth that fill every corner of the screen, mesmerizing you with its beauty. You then find the source of the flames which engulf your visual field. The beauty quickly turns to horror and this visual slight of hand pattern occurs throughout the film. What initially is gorgeously striking suddenly comes into comprehensible view to create a disturbing image. It perfectly imitates our own consciousness as we are at first ignorant about issues, but then, with information, we are awakened and see things for what they truly are.

Baichwal and Burtynsky takes us on an extraordinary journey through time and around the world to explore and explain the effects of mankind on our world. Chapter by chapter, beginning with “Extraction,” we understand how our need for earth’s resources have inadvertently depleted other necessary resources. We start in Russia at a huge metal factory. To fuel the fire, trees are cut, but that is a source of oxygen not to mention the benefits of helping with processing carbon dioxide. There’s a delicate balance that has been tipped too far in one direction as the community depends on this plant for wages, but at the same time it’s hurting them. This juggling act, understanding and caring for our environment while attempting to give people a way to support themselves is always at the forefront as is the gluttony and greed, and the land is losing.

This is the theme throughout the film as we travel to Carrara, Italy and witness the extraction of the finest marble in the world. Seen from high above as a gorgeous symmetrical design we plunge more closely and our breath is taken away by the image that lies before us. This cinematic accentuation upon the narration clearly defines the irrevocable damage upon our planet. From the phosphate mines in Florida to the grinding jaws of machinery in Germany which appear like monsters rising above the clouds, we see a land that replicates a scene from “Mad Max” or “Mortal Engines.” There’s a sense of hopelessness at what has been lost.

The film looks at this new era of man, dissecting how we have impacted climate change and extinction of animals. Interviews with residents, employees, and those who are stepping up in an effort to make a difference, save endangered species, or protect our current state from getting worse, support the underlying feel of an emergency. For example, the president of Kenya eloquently states, “…blessings come with duties” as he refers to the land and the gracious endangered species of elephants and rhinoceroses roam the land. As we extrapolate the information, it is evident that our own demise or extinction is eminent. This is a warning tale, an eye-opening, riveting masterpiece of art and story that shakes your soul as it hopefully alarms you into action.

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” is masterfully detailed, captivating you visually with a subtle yet haunting musical layer to tell a difficult yet necessary story. From streets comprised of compressed trash surrounded by mountains of rubbish looking serene from high above and plats of water that reflect a contemplative neon green to rocky striations of reds, blues, purples and whites, appearing like ancient stone carvings only to be revealed as a signature of our chemical times and the imprint upon the earth’s surface. There’s an artistry in our devastation making it even more disturbing as you initially find beauty in it.

“Anthropocene” The Human Epoch” is a wake up call. A call to action. A call to awareness. And a plea to understand how we have left the Halocene Epoch and are now in an era of man’s giant and crushing footprint upon our world. The film’s beauty is undeniable as are the horrors it reveals. This is one of the most visually arresting and informative films about our world and our future.

For more information about the film at the Sundance Film Festival, go to SUNDANCE.ORG

4 STARS

“Serenity” misses the boat

January 26th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Serenity” misses the boat”

“Serenity” is written and directed by Steven Knight whose previous film, “Locke,” starring Tom Hardy is a favorite. Unfortunately, this second attempt wearing both the writer’s and director’s hats doesn’t quite work. Matthew McConaughey stars as Baker Dill, a charter fisherman on the pristine and remote island called Plymouth Island. Dill finds his sole focus is catching the Big One, the one that gets away, time after time. His focus quickly changes when his ex-wife, Karen (Anne Hathaway), shows up with a story of spousal abuse and an offer that he just can’t refuse…or can he?

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Karen shares her abusive stories and promises Dill $10M if he agrees to bring her husband Frank (Jason Clarke) on a fishing expedition where he will go overboard and become fish food. In need of money and his connection to the child back home, Dill considers the offer, but there’s something off. In fact, there’s something that feels a bit hinky during most of the film, or at least until the big reveal. You can’t quite put your finger on it, and it does keep you hooked, but there are too many expressions that make your eyes roll and these characters just seem too over-the-top. You hope that it’s an element of supernatural as Knight eludes to that, drawing you down a particular path, only to be capsized.

“Serenity” certainly had potential, but it seems that Knight lost touch with the arc of the story line and the importance of the topics at hand. Addressing complex issues such as abuse and coping mechanisms, particularly with children and women is a tough topic, and this bizarre approach would have worked at if the twist was revealed significantly earlier. We then could have been allowed to appreciate and understand the characters more fully as well as the situations at hand.

With knowing the twist, McConaughey’s portrayal of the man with a secret, escaping from something we are not yet privy to while creating a persona of individuality, and strength is spot on even if it is rather one dimensional. His first mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou) is equally strong, but stable; the voice of wisdom. Hounsou evokes trust immediately from you as you urge Dill to listen to him. Hathaway gives us a sense of a femme fatale character with her mysterious and sudden appearances, her beauty, and emitting a sense of distrustfulness. Hathaway is always a pleasure to see in any role and she finds a way to add interest to this otherwise seemingly bizarre film. Clarke portrays a character that is pure evil, perhaps too evil and that is in part thanks to Knights’ choice in dialogue as he refers to despicable acts upon young girls. He pushes the evil a bit too far given that this is a fictional tale—we just didn’t need that as Frank was awful enough without that. Jeremy Strong plays Reid Miller, the oddball, suit-wearing, spectacled man always trying to catch up with Dill. His character throws a wrench into anything you might have thought was happening, but he’s a welcomed character as he puts the narrative into a higher gear. Unfortunately, Diane Lane’s character of Constance, Dill’s friend (and bank account) with benefits is quite forgettable and unnecessary.

Again, much of what I have described doesn’t make sense until close to the end and by that time you already have a sour taste in your mouth. There wasn’t enough Orbit gum to cover that up and allow you to see the film for what it was trying to be. On the surface, the film is about abuse and questioning right versus wrong and all those shades in between. But as you delve more deeply, the women in how they are portrayed is disappointing as well as the overall message.

Again, after knowing the twist and understanding that the film is about abuse and how to cope, it misses the boat. With the sex, language, and references made, it’s also difficult to see who the target audience is. It’s too harsh for kids who might be experiencing abuse and its an exercise in frustration for the rest of us.

2 1/2 Stars

“Green Book” A lesson in humanity if not history

January 25th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Green Book” A lesson in humanity if not history”

“Green Book” already has won several major film awards, including three Golden Globes and a Critics’ Choice Award, and earned five Academy Award nominations. There’s a good reason for this. It’s a feel-good movie that opens the door to conversation about racial prejudice and truly is entertaining and heartwarming.

Writer/director Peter Farrelly, known for classic comedies such as “Something About Mary” and “Dumb and Dumber,” couldn’t have created anything less similar to his previous films. He does, however, maintain a sense of humor throughout this touching, dramatic, road trip buddy film starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali that will make you laugh … and cry.

The story takes place in the 1960s at a time when segregation still was very evident and even more racially divided in the Southern states. Tony Vallelonga aka Tony Lip (Mortensen), an Italian-American in New York City, making a living as a bouncer and all-around tough guy, finds himself working as a driver for the famed classical pianist Dr. Don Shirley, who is going on tour through the deep South.

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

“F*** Your Hair” Screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center, a must-see story of immigration, morality, and politics

January 23rd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““F*** Your Hair” Screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center, a must-see story of immigration, morality, and politics”

“F*** Your Hair” may sound, just by the title, like an irreverent or combative story, but in actuality, it is a true American story, filled to the brim with inspiration, courage, and morality. Politics, immigration, business, and community are all thoughtfully stirred together in a well-balanced and spicy story to please your film palate.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

First-time filmmaker Jason Polevoi creates this short documentary depicting the dilemma of Andres Araya and Mila Ramirez in 2014 who had immigrated to the Chicago area determined to live the American Dream. With a love of their home country of Mexico, the flavors they cherished weren’t present in any craft beer so they created 5 Rabbit Cerveceria. Thanks to a connection, the couple landed what initially appeared to be a dream contract: having their beer as a mainstay draft at Trump Tower. For a small brewery, this catapulted them into financial stability, but their proverbial bubble was burst during the presidential election when Trump accused Mexican immigrants of being rapists, drug mules, and criminals. As Mexican immigrants, how could the couple continue to sell to Trump when they heard this? And if they followed their heart and stopped selling to Trump, their bank account would suffer immeasurably. This is the story of what happens when you do the right thing.

In well-shot interview form, Polevoi introduces us to Araya and Ramirez as they recalled coming to America, finding a home in Chicago and venturing into the brewery business. We quickly learn from the couple, their thoughts and feelings the very moment when they learned of Trump’s allegations and when they decided they couldn’t, in all good consciousness, continue to sell to Trump Tower. We are swept away by the ensuring story as they decide to rename of the beer, hear the thoughts of other local brewery owners, and even hear expert lawyers on the topic because, you guessed it, the couple gets sued. Surprise, surprise, right? But how can one little company fight big money? Jenkins takes us along this journey as we learn about the business and the intricacies of a David vs. Goliath fight.

This short documentary, thanks to the keen vision of Polevoi, not only introduces us to the motivated and creative couple, we get to know them—their personalities and their goals. Integrating humor, oftentimes ironically, as well as graphic art gives the narrative storytelling technique a visual pop, making the film visually interesting and even more entertaining. The additional interviews complete this riveting and bold picture and we walk away from the film with an education about contracts, beer making, and one couple’s hope to truly chase the American Dream even when there are roadblocks a mile high in their way. Here’s an added bonus: If you’re a non-beer drinker like me, you might even be inspired to have a tall pour of F*** Your Hair. Cheers!

“F*** Your Hair” is screening at the Siskel Film Center on Friday partnering with the insightful and relevant Kartemquin film “’63 Boycott.” For more information, go to SISKEL FILM CENTER

Writer/Director Peter Hedges talks about making “Ben Is Back”

January 17th, 2019 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “Writer/Director Peter Hedges talks about making “Ben Is Back””

You can’t miss newspaper articles, books, and even movies which depict the harrowing experiences of drug abuse in our world today. This year, two standout films tell an emotionally raw story not just about addiction, but of a young adult’s attempts to regain his life. “Beautiful Boy” and “Ben Is Back” both create these stories, but with Peter Hedges film, “Ben Is Back,” starring his own son Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts, he utilizes pieces of his own life as well as others’, to give us a sincere and poignant tale of a mother and son struggling for survival.

Peter Hedges was recently in Chicago for the Chicago International Film Festival where his film screened. I had the honor and pleasure of meeting this soft-spoken yet engaging, award winning writer and director to talk about making “Ben Is Back.”

Pamela Powell (PP): I understand that “Ben Is Back” is reflective of your own life in many ways.

Peter Hedges (PH): I grew up in a family that was decimated and then ultimately elevated because of addiction. My mom was an active alcoholic until I was 15 and then she left home when I was 7. I didn’t really know her full and majestic self —she was a remarkable woman—until she got sober when I was 15. The last 22 years of her life she devoted to helping other people and saved hundreds if not thousands of lives. …I saw from a family perspective what happens when a loved member of the family is engulfed by the disease of addiction. And so as I got older … I noticed that I was burying more and more friends and more and more people that I knew were at risk. A close family member nearly died and another family member did die and so I just wanted to create or tell a story that I felt could be a big part of a conversation that we need to have.

PP: You have a uniquely accurate way of creating a mother’s voice in your characters, especially with Julia Robert’s character of “Holly.” How do you do this?

PH: I had a remarkable mother and I’m married to a remarkable mother. My sister’s a remarkable mother. Most of my favorite actors are remarkable women of a certain age. Holly was not hard for [me to write]. … From the minute I started writing the mother in “Gilbert Grape” to the mother I wrote in “Pieces of April,” I like writing moms. I don’t know why, … nothing comes super easy for me, but they do. I think it’s my respect and awe and love for moms and mothers and women in my life. And my life has helped make that possible. … I was struck in reading Walt Whitman’s journals. When soldiers were dying in the war repeatedly, …. they never called out for their fathers. They never called out for their loved ones. They always called out for their mothers. I wanted to write a great love story. … I thought who would really go anywhere and will go everywhere for their child?

PP: Julia and Lucas have such a genuine connection. Tell me about their relationship and developing it to give such authentic performances.

PH: It’s a testament to both of them. They really like each other! … I mean what does one say about Julia Roberts? She’s the perfect actor to play Holly. She’s that mom. She loves her kids so much and she’ll do anything for them. What makes the movie so powerful to me is that Holly’s trying so hard to protect her child and Lucas is Ben is trying so hard to make up for his mistakes and I find that very moving that I’m going to beat this. And the fact that it’s that hard to beat is why the film’s important is because that’s what so many people are facing and some of us don’t realize how difficult it is. Someone that we sit next to at work, at school and they’re living everyday in this peril that Holly and Ben lives on this day.

PP: And what about working with your own son?

PH: He never called me dad. I mean one time he did. He came knocking on my door, he needed some money. (Laughs) But he stayed down the hall and I never went to his room. He came to my room a couple of times but I really tried to just keep the distance and give him his space.

PP: As a mother, I felt that I was Holly, walking in her shoes even though I, thankfully, have not gone through this experience directly. I had such compassion for her character.

PH: That’s the great danger of the time that we’re living in is that everything is “an other.” … when we lose our capacity to feel compassion for other people and we lose our ability or interest in understand other points of view, then we are descending toward more of a savage world, a cruel world. I think art at its best expands our capacity for compassion and maybe we’ll look a little differently at the people we’ve been writing off.

PP: Do you feel that this film is in some ways a healing process for you and your past?

PH: It is in some respects very much that. I think my mother and father who are no longer here in the physical sense and I know how much they would love this film and that makes me proud that that’s an extension of the work they were doing. And this is my attempt to be a part of something much bigger and more important. It’s definitely healing. It makes me want to keep moving in the direction of making urgent and necessary films.

PP: This topic touches so many lives directly, including my friend who lost her son. What have you seen so far of the impact of this film?

PH: The trailer came out and trailers always scare me and I was looking on the “Ben Is Back” Facebook page, and thousands of people are commenting about the trailer, but a number of [were] people saying, I don’t know if I can see this movie, I lived it, and then someone would say, this is a picture of my son that I lost and then there would be 14 comments from people all over the world saying I’m so sorry that that happened. He looked like such a great kid. … Somebody came up to me yesterday after the movie and said, I didn’t know what I put my mother through until I saw this movie and said, ‘I’m going to go call my mom.’ YES! … That’s the hard thing about the disease that you’re so caught up in it that you lose your capacity to understand that you’re hurting the people that you most love. When my mother got sober, she had to live with the fact that all the hurting she did when she was drinking. If she hadn’t have been drinking she would never have done those things. She would never have walked out on 4 children. She had to be drunk to do that. I understand there’s accountability … but they’re not themselves. And this friend of yours who lost her son, he wasn’t himself.

Film Rating 4/4 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Stars

“Odd Brodsky” An Uplifting & Quirky Comedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3/4 Stars

“Welcome to Marwen” lacks heart

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

Complete review coming soon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 1/2 Stars out of 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5/4 STARS

“Mary Queen of Scots” Powerful women, powerful story

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

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

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

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

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

Best Documentaries of 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Social Animals” An Instagram story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK: An interview with Barry Jenkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Best of 2018

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

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

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

BEST FEATURE FILMS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARY POPPINS RETURNS- magical fun for the entire family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WCIA Segment 1

WCIA Morning Show

“Robin Hood” misses the mark

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

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

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

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

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