Posts in Review

“The Lion King” Same heart, incredible new technology in animation

July 11th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Lion King” Same heart, incredible new technology in animation”

Disney has released yet another remake from their wonderful world with Jon Favreau in the director’s chair. After the success of the incredible melding of real life with animation in “The Jungle Book,” many anticipated equally extraordinary visualization of the memorable film “The Lion King.” Varying little if at all from the original story, this new version of “The Lion King,” a “photo-real” production is mesmerizing throughout thanks to the artistic and technological worlds colliding in beautiful harmony.

The story begins with the familiar Mufasa (voice of James Earl Jones) attempting to impart words of wisdom upon his adorable, fluffy, and feisty cub Simba (voice of JD McCrary). Doom and gloom ensues as Scar, always jealous of his older brother’s strength and place in life, plots to take down the king and in so doing, inflict seemingly irreparable damage to young Simba. Years pass and the missing heir to the thrown has made a new life, Hakuna Matata style, but he must follow the path his father and ancestors’ have paved for him.

While those who are familiar with the original animated version of the story will always cherish it, this new and visually impressive version tells the same father-son story, keeping all of the same key songs, but using the terminology of today and giving each of the characters a new, fresh voice.

The film is visually entrancing from the beginning, but it doesn’t really find its pacing until after the first third of the film when Simba meets Pumba (Seth Rogan) and Timon (Billy Eichner). Each of these characters are familiar yet their respective voices create new and interesting personalities as they help Simba get through each day. With laugh-out-loud moments, the film is a Disney multi-colored world of happiness and fun. Disney movies are known for their ability to make both kids and adults laugh and this updated version does exactly that, perhaps even more so than the original. Although the final portion of the film is much darker and more intense, and perhaps even scary for younger ones because it does feel and look so real, there’s also a message of environmentalism and honor as Simba stands up for what’s right and best for all.

With any remake, particularly Disney classics, you roll the dice when you cast a new voice for a beloved character. We saw mixed reactions to “Aladdin” (Will Smith vs. Robin Williams), but “The Lion King” thankfully continues with James Earl Jones as Mufasa and expertly or perhaps wisely casts Rogan and Eichner for incredible comedy and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the voice of Scar who formulates incomparable intimidation in his voice so that you can almost see the scheming and evil emanating from his character’s lips.

Zazu is voiced by John Oliver who brings us his own signature style and JD McCrary brings a youthful innocence to his character of young Simba. Growing older, Danny Glover takes over this part, spinning Simba in his own way, especially while he sings.

While many may argue whether or not a remake was needed, no one can argue this film’s astoundingly magical animation technique. Favreau reportedly blended “live-action filmmaking techniques with photo-real computer generated imagery” as the environments were designed within a game engine or VR (Virtual Reality) set up. Favreau’s vision and his team have revolutionized the world of animation and because of this we are in constant awe as we see the detail of the lion’s whiskers and fur, the graceful gallop of the giraffes, the rough and symmetrical ridges of the antelopes’ antlers, the intensity of the hyena’s dark and hateful eyes, or the billowing dust randomly rising and falling as we can almost feel the particles settle on our skin. The details are mesmerizing, capturing our attention and almost drawing it away from the story itself. Where the line of reality and animation blur is up for grabs as you cannot tell what is real and what is not. This truly gives the sense of anthropomorphism of the animals and immediate empathy for their lives.

Favreau masterfully creates an amalgam of worlds, real and animated, to retell a beautiful and familiar story which will mesmerize children and adults alike. With the skill, talent, knowledge and artistry involved in creating such a visual accomplishment, it’s too bad Disney didn’t put its efforts into creating a unique and original story to go along with it. However, fans of “The Lion King” will find that same heart of the original.

4 Stars

Hulu’s CULTURE SHOCK director Gigi Saul Guerrero talks about the reality and horror of her new feature episode

July 3rd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Hulu’s CULTURE SHOCK director Gigi Saul Guerrero talks about the reality and horror of her new feature episode”

Hulu’s “Into the Dark” horror episodic series is underway and first-time feature director Gigi Saul Guerrero’s “Culture Shock” will be available to see on July 4th. It’s a timely release as the film tackles Mexican border crossings and the American Dream as the two collide in unimaginably horrific ways.

Guerrero was recently in Chicago to discuss not only the film, but how she personally connects with it and how it resonates with anyone who has a dream to live a better life.

To read the interview as published in the Wednesday, July 3rd edition of The Daily Journal, go HERE

“Spider-Man: Far From Home” A teen’s dream, but just another super hero film for the rest of us

June 27th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Spider-Man: Far From Home” A teen’s dream, but just another super hero film for the rest of us”

The never-ending onslaught of super hero films continues with the sequel to Tom Holland’s version of Spider-Man with “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” This teen-geared film finds Peter Parker (Holland) preparing to go on a school trip to Europe as he dreams of telling MJ (Zendaya) how he truly feels about her. It’s a grand romantic plan, but of course, there is evil to be fought and that pesky leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) just can’t let a kid be a kid for a summer. Donning his Spider-Man suit, the young boy must fill the shoes of his beloved hero, Iron Man and save the world.

Ultimately, this is just another formulaic super hero film, but it does have its unique appeal as the film pays homage to those heroes that were lost in battle. The concept of those who disappeared only to return is referred to as the 5 year “Blip” and the consequences are wonderfully creative as you laugh out loud. The film also capitalizes wonderfully on that awkward first-love or first crush in high school as both Peter and his comedic sidekick Ned (Jacob Batalon) navigate those choppy and unpredictable waters.

There are new threats that develop in the world as the evil Elementals begin to wreak havoc in every country. Fury looks to the young Spider-Man to help lead in this fight to save the world from imminent doom, but his reticence proves that he’s not quite ready for the big league. Thankfully, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) steps in to help and we see Peter’s longing for that father-figure in his life. The first half of the film, thanks to comedy, dialogue, and the introduction of this new character, is great fun, but the remaining half of the film plummets into predictable chase and fight scenes overloaded with visually boggling CGI. The story also blatantly attempts to make several social statements about our world today, particularly in the realm of media, but these, like the fight scenes, are very heavy handed. There’s no subtlety here. What started out as cute, very funny, charming, and even novel, developed into exactly what every other film in this genre typically is…a big fight scene with good versus evil, lulling us into a light slumber.

The cast of characters makes the most of the script and they truly shine in the first half. Holland is supremely comfortable as the awkward teen charged with tasks only a man should be able to carry. It’s this internalized struggle which he conveys with humor that makes Peter Parker a super hero for young fans to relate to as well as emulate. Of course, that love interest with the smart, independent, and striking MJ gives the story a boost of adrenaline, but it’s Batalon’s portrayal of Ned that brings us the extra charge of levity in this story. His timing and reactions are brilliant with unexpected dialogue that will have you roaring. Jackson has honed his role as Fury, to no surprise, and Gyllenhaal is well-suited for playing Mysterio. He’s passionate and creates a believable character, no matter the situation.

With these elements shining in the film, it feels that a different writer took over the reigns for the second half of the film, losing the pacing and charming comedic edge. Of course, this is based on a graphic novel and the artistry in creating alternative realities is quite impressive, but it’s not enough to maintain a high interest level or carry the storyline. Perhaps it’s the 2 hour and 9 minute running time that taxed my attention span, wanting the editing staff to cut about 30 minutes.

“Spider-Man: Far From Home,” even with its charming subplot of teen love and angst, is just another super hero movie in a world where I need Captain No More to save me from seeing another film in this genre. Teens will love it as will those who are invested in this universe, but if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.

2 Stars

“Olympia” An undeniably strong, humorous, and creative first feature for writer Chinn

June 23rd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Olympia” An undeniably strong, humorous, and creative first feature for writer Chinn”

Chicago actress and writer, McKenzie Chinn, makes her feature screenwriting debut with “Olympia,” directed by Greg Dixon and distributed by Cow Lamp Films. Chinn, also the lead in the film, creates a relatable character of Olympia, a young woman at the cross roads in life as she must decide whether or not she can stand on her own two feet.

Olympia is an educated and talented young woman who is stuck in a dead-end, entry-level job while she valiantly attempts to cope with the knowledge that her mother is dying. Diligently visiting and comforting her mom and coming to terms with this inevitable future, she must also now deal with the fact that her understandingly wonderful boyfriend is moving across the country for his job. He wants nothing more than for Olympia to come with him, but that would mean she has to step out of her comfort zone and grow up. Feeling that it’s all spinning out of control, Olympia gently dips her toe in the waters of adulthood and sometimes makes quite a splash.

From the moment we meet Olympia, we love her. She’s real, complicated, and filled with love. But it is her honest depiction of her fears that makes Olympia such a relatable character. Adding that consistent touch of humor, most of which is situational, sets up a protagonist we root for, but never really know which decisions we would make if we were walking in her shoes. To create a character that we have empathy for is quite a feat and Chinn does exactly that.

“Olympia” also hones in on creating authentic dialogue, particularly as we see Olympia interact with her sister and her best friend. Of course, as with any young adult, relationships outside of our love lives are key to working out our issues and making decisions. Olympia angrily and unabashedly discusses her resentment toward her missing father and openly confides her fears with her best friend. And her hesitancy to be completely honest with her boyfriend, Felix (Charles Andrew Gardner), allows us to more fully understand and connect with Olympia.

The realities of the economic difficulties that young grads experience is not news, but the emotional havoc it wreaks on lives is eloquently portrayed in “Olympia.” It is at this stage of life that we find so many crossroads, professionally and personally, and we watch as Olympia contemplates daring to follow her dreams while needing to maintaining a sense of individuality, but lacking the self-confidence that is necessary. Who hasn’t gone through all of this on some level?

Chinn develops her character of Olympia with incredible ease, finding a way to give her the layers and complexities that any woman can relate to. We empathize with her reticence in making a commitment in love and her art while we connect with her trepidation in actually becoming an adult and the possibility of not having her mom to lean on. Chinn’s performance is exceptional as the young woman trying to grow up.

It’s a small ensemble cast in “Olympia” all giving extraordinary, heartfelt performances. From LaNisa Renee Frederick’s undeniably difficult performance as Olympia’s dying mother to Gardner’s remarkable portrayal as Olympia’s boyfriend, the chemistry with Chinn is readily conveyed on screen.

With Chinn’s succinct, humorous, and touching screenwriting paired Dixon’s deft direction, it’s a match made in heaven as the two create a well-balanced and meaningful story. There is a unique creative aspect to this film that makes it even more memorable as the film intertwines graphic artistry, a wonderful soundtrack, and cinematography giving it a sense of whimsy and wonder, capturing the beauty of art and the Second City.

3 1/2 stars

Director Miranda Bailey talks about “Being Frank”

June 20th, 2019 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “Director Miranda Bailey talks about “Being Frank””

“Being Frank,” traveled the film festival circuit for quite some time before getting its final edits and now a release across the country. The film stars Jim Gaffigan, a favorite stand up comic whose acting career is bursting at the seems right now, as Frank, a man who attempts to balance life with two families; each unknown to the other. Of course, all “good” things must come to an end and Frank finds himself in a pickle with his son Phillip (Logan Miller). It’s a dark comedy that keeps the laughs coming thanks to the creative writing and directing as well as the casts’ impeccable ability to play off of one another yet still maintain a level of drama.

In an interview recently, Director Miranda Bailey discussed the changes made to the original concept, how she balances life, her female review site Cherry Picks, and quite shockingly, the fact that she had never heard of Jim Gaffigan before casting her film! Shocking, simply shocking.

Pamela Powell (PP): I understand you had a few changes to the overall script, making it a more personal one.

Miranda Bailey (MB): When I first received the script…it was in modern times. The one (wife) that Frank really loved was the stay-at-home mom who cooked all the time and was perfect and the other [wife] was working…We’re not going to have the one he really loves as this kind, sweet mom and the working mom is this one that no one wants around. Those elements changed drastically, the roles of the women. [The film was also] moved to 1992 which was a time in my life that was when my parents got divorced…I felt the fear that Phillip (Miller) goes through. ***SPOILER*** I was able to … say everything that I wanted to say to my dad or to myself as a child through the character. When Anna Gunn [the character of Laura] is saying .. well, he’ll always be your dad even though he’s a total dick … I wish someone would have said that to me.

PP: Initially, I thought it was an odd casting choice to have Gaffigan, but now I can’t imagine anyone else being able to pull off this role!

MB: I actually didn’t even know him when we started casting, I didn’t even know Jim Gaffigan!

PP: NO!

MB: When the script was ready to go, and you want Jason Bateman, but it can’t be Jason Bateman, 1. Because we can’t afford him; 2. He’s not available, and 3. Then it’s a Jason Bateman movie. It’s quite hard, especially in that age range to try to find someone who can be likable and lovable and still doing something so cruel but with cowardice…Initially, we were thinking Louis CK …and I’m so lucky the agents never gave it to him!

PP: Can you imagine?

MB: ****SPOILER***** Oh, my God! That would be awful! We made this movie before…any of the Weinstein stuff came out. Movies take a long time to go from concept to [finish] so it’s been pretty interesting in editing based on those things. [In] the version at the festivals, “You Can’t Choose Your Family,” Frank was forgiven by his son and I changed that in the end because the world has changed in that year.

PP: Gaffigan’s comedy has a very dark edge to it in this film. As a director, how did you draw that out of him?

MB: He definitely does have the dark comedic elements to him. That’s not necessarily part of his standup, but, you know, tragedy is funny! I think he understands that.

PP: Frank’s relationship with Laura is based on a lie. Can you talk about the lies and all the relationships?

MB: A lot of this movie focuses on lies. Everyone in this film, not just Frank, is lying to someone else or lying to themselves. Whether it’s Phillip lying about where he’s going, that he’s not drinking, he’s studying and his best friend’s lying about being gay, and Anna Gunn’s character is lying about being in a happy marriage. Not lying, but she’s refusing, she knows, she’s reading that book, she knows that something’s going on, she knows she’s not in love, she’s staying the course, she’s lying to herself that it’ll be ok. Samantha [her character of Bonnie] is being lied to but she is oblivious and doesn’t know but that’s like part of why she keeps painting the same thing, her home in her own back yard, nothing changes. Something’s going on and she’s trying to find it. She doesn’t know what it is, it’s like this weird artful metaphor, but she doesn’t realize it’s her and her husband.

PP: I hadn’t thought about that being her subconscious talking to her! Let’s chat about your own balancing act in life as director, producer, wife, and mother.

MB: I have a stay-at-home husband and my mother [and in-laws] and brother living here. When I was filming “Being Frank,” I had a really solid support system. … I don’t think I could do it without a supportive partner who was like, ‘Hey, I really want my job to be the house person,’ which is like the hardest job there is. That said, when I come home from work, he’s like, here you go! Your turn!

PP: It’s a tough balancing act!

MB: There’s a lot of pressure on us from society… when I was producing…all the traveling…all the guys and women were single and I was married and I was like the “bad mom” ha ha ha. They’d joke about it, [saying], “You’re never around. You’re always in Toronto drinking beer with us ha ha ha.” I’m not a bad mom, I’m a very good mom, but you don’t say anything. I think we feel guiltiest. Like my dad never had to go to parent teacher conferences and never got the pressure to do that. … And I hate dealing with teachers and principals and report cards, so it’s good because I just make him [my husband] do all that. (Laughs)

PP: I bet he’s good at it!

MB: He is because he’s nice. There’s got to be someone as the tough one. I’m tough in my regular life which is not home so when I come home and they say, can I have ice cream for dinner, I’m like, yep! Sure!

PP: You’ve got so many irons in the fire all the time and Cherry Picks review site for women is one of them and has been live now for 8 months. How’s that going?

MB: We now have this fantastic design that’s operating and at the end of the month we’ll have this critics [area] where critics will be able to upload their own stuff … and we have our own articles … we’re still learning and growing. It takes a long time to build. It’s like remodeling a kitchen. It takes 10 times longer than you expect. Rotten Tomatoes is great, but it’s for a specific audience and Cherry Picks is also for a specific audience.

“Being Frank” expands across the country this weekend and you can find more information about Cherry Picks at thecherrypicks.com

Film Rating: 3/4 Stars

“Katie Says Goodbye” finds optimism in a sea of despair

June 18th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Katie Says Goodbye” finds optimism in a sea of despair”

First-time feature filmmaker Wayne Roberts executes an extraordinary story about a young woman’s quest to have a better life while dealing with the continual harsh realities of her circumstances.  With an all-star cast including Olivia Cooke, Jim Belushi, Mary Steenburgen, Chris Abbott, Chris Lowell, and Mireille Enos, the story delves deeply into the human psyche, relationships, and hope.

Katie (Cooke) is a waitress and part-time prostitute in a desolate desert town, living in a trailer park, and supporting her mother and little sister, but she has dreams of one day escaping this less than desirable life.  Her circumstances, to most, would seem overwhelming, but Katie never loses her positive spirit and goal of leaving…until she meets and falls in love with Bruno (Abbott), a newcomer to town.  Establishing a relationship in a small community filled with gossip and cruelty is more difficult than she could have imagined.  The consequences and challenges she must face begin to smother her and Katie’s emotional survival is at risk.

“People need to appreciate things more…life is so amazing,” says Katie even as we see her worthless mother take complete advantage of her and men doing the same.  Your heart breaks as you see this young woman not only survive, but attempt to break free of the chains that hold her here.  The spark of positivity is always shining…her goal of leaving always the focal point.

Relationships are complex and the story brings us deep within all that Katie experiences.   She supports her mother who is more than physically capable of doing so, but relies on Katie.  We see the disappointment in her face as she puts on the facade that everything is ok.  Maybelle (Steenburgen) is wise, acting more like a mother than Katie will ever have, but again, Katie protects others from experiencing her atrocities.  Surprisingly, although Katie’s father is missing in action, she prays each night to him, wanting him to be proud and perhaps this imaginative father is the consistent, positive “person” in her life to give her that unstoppable resiliency.  The most unlikely man in her life, Bear (Belushi) is a “regular,” and quite surprisingly, also a sweet father-figure to Katie, giving her guidance in life.  This character opposition is unusual, but in its own strange way, very loving.

The relationships that are most disturbing are with other males in town, from the teacher who “visits” to the young men who are brutal and harsh beyond words.  There are scenes that will leave you speechless and take your breath away while tears stream down your face.

The ensemble cast expertly creates deep and realistic characters, some of whom you truly despise.  Cooke’s performance is simply sensational.  She develops a complex character, understanding her reactions, her disappointments, and her actions.  Even though we don’t approve of her choices. She is at once frustrating as she is engaging and Cooke creates this character with whom we truly care for.  

Belushi is one of the few actors that could portray “Bear.”  He creates the kindness in a male character that the story needs for balance.  The goodness he exudes, even though he is using Katie for sex, melts your heart.  Enos portrays  the epitome of a bad mom, but she, too, has depth and reasons for her situation.  Enos conveys this expertly, allowing us to dislike her, yet understand her at the same time.

Lowell shines just as brightly as someone we immediately hate.  We get a sense from him that he’s bad to the bone.  His look, his body language, and his tone all create a truly despicable character as “Dirk.”  Together, the entire cast tells this beautifully  intimate story of life and desperation, but most importantly hope.

Roberts first attempt at screenwriting and directing expertly demonstrates the skills needed to tell this heart-wrenching story. The characters he creates are extraordinarily real and his style of directing and communication, according to the cast during an interview, is unusual and allows the actors to give their best performances. While the dialogue is powerful, it is his direction with scenes requiring no speaking that are most evocative exuding desperation, heartbreak, and even love.

“Katie Says Goodbye” takes us on a remarkable emotional journey of life, filled with hope and countered by reality.  It’s a powerfully evocative story with outstanding performances, beautiful dialogue, and most importantly, a lasting effect of optimism.

3 1/2 out of 4 Stars

“Late Night” Is a bold new comedy for today’s world

June 12th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Late Night” Is a bold new comedy for today’s world”

Check out Mindy Kaling’s newest creation “Late Night” starring Emma Thompson as Katherine Newbury, a woman who is about to be ousted from her comfortable seat as a late night talk show host. Why? Because there’s a new, young, hip guy, Daniel (Ike Barinholtz), waiting in the wings to push her right off and teach this old stick-in-the-mud a few lessons on what it means to be funny. Of course, that’s all before Kaling’s naively bold and talented character fo Molly enters the scene. With a dream of writing for her idol, she inadvertently lands the job only because she’s female. What happens after this all rings true of society today, the issues at hand, and somehow still makes us constantly laugh till tears stream down our cheeks.

With Kaling in the writer’s chair and handing the director’s seat to Nisha Ganatra, the duo prove to be creatively powerful as they find the perfect chemistry needed to pull of a sometimes politically incorrect yet insightful perspective on sexism, agism, and racism not only in the country, but particularly in the entertainment industry.

Kaling, perhaps from real life experience of being the only female in a male dominated environment, is in the catbird’s seat as she skillfully and innocently portrays Molly. Her earnest outlook on her new job and why it was offered to her is the spice that this all-male team of late night writers needs to stir things up. Kaling’s performance is extraordinary as she allows us to watch her youthful character change and grow, seeing the world in a different light. Kaling is a comedic genius not only with writing, but with acting. Her depth of character, as with great comedy, peels away the layers to make her vulnerable and while we are laughing, we are also relating. It’s an extraordinary feat, yet Kaling makes it look easy.

While there are plenty of side stories taking place, this is Molly and Katherine’s story and how the two women learn and grow from one another. Katherine faces the reality of who she once was and who she now sees in the mirror, but Molly, who helps Katherine redefine herself, also has some growing to do. Together, they are magic on screen and the polar opposite personalities and looks just add to the fun chemistry and occasional explosions.

Thompson absolutely shines in this role, pushing her skills to showcase her comedic timing and her dramatic skills to create a well-rounded and realistic woman who has been at the top of her game and now faces almost-certain retirement. Thompson appears more than comfortable as the late night talk show host, carrying a burden of guilt from the opportunities that fame sometimes affords, which plunges her character into confronting other relationships in her life. Thompson is strong and powerful, yet there’s a sense of fragility within her character that allows us to connect with her.

John Lithgow is Walter, Katherine’s husband, and the one person who truly knows her and has the chutzpah to express his honest opinion. These are the moments that break your heart and inspire you as you see who this woman is and what she has experienced. The team of writers on the set of this late night show, from Max Casella to Denis O’Hare, give the film another element of authenticity. It is this honesty, sometimes a bit harsh, that elevates this film from just another comedy to one that is meaningful and even has an important message.

Ganatra directs this talented cast to give exceptional performances and deliver comedy with precision timing. It’s a difficult balancing act when you combine drama with comedy and Ganatra never loses sight of the comedic undertones, even when we are shedding a few tears.

We’re seeing more and more stories where women are the focal point which allows for new perspectives and ideas to be shared. “Late Night” is a film for everyone to see the world through a different and very entertaining lens.

To read the review in the Friday, June 14, 2019 edition of THE DAILY JOURNAL go to THE DAILY JOURNAL
4/4 Stars

“Men in Black: International” A disappointing attempt to revive a franchise

June 12th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Men in Black: International” A disappointing attempt to revive a franchise”

“Men in Black: International” aka MIB 4, attempts to re-create a fantastically fun and comedic franchise with new leads, but proves instead that sequels should just be a concept and nothing more. Starring Chris Hemsworth as Agent H and Tessa Thomspon as Agent M, the familiar storyline of an alternate world filled with aliens threatens the world as we know it and ultimately, the universe must be saved by the heroes.

The film starts out strong with an interesting concept as young Molly (Mandeiya Flory) encounters an alien. From this, her entire education and adult life (Thompson) is altered, driving her to join the Men In Black. Using her intelligence and wits, she finds a way to this world and partners with the renowned and rather cocky Agent H to earn her badge.

From this point, the film sputters to a near halt as the predictable “story” unfolds. Filled with plenty of special effects and chase scenes, this 4th installment of the franchise seems to have forgotten what made the first film so memorable: chemistry and dialogue. Thankfully, we are introduced to Pawny (Kumail Nanjiani), a CGI character who somehow is able to overshadow the handsome and charming Hemsworth character.

While it’s refreshing to see a female in the lead of a film with the word men in the title and a few comments regarding that, as well as Thompson doing an adequate job in the role, the interest level lacked for her character. Her personality was one-dimensional, much like Agent H’s, and together there was a feeling of forced chemistry that not even their acting skills could mimic. We craved information about who she is as a person and this lack of detail made her dull and benign.

Hemsworth is completely underutilized as an actor who has a range of skills untapped since Ron Howard’s direction of him in “Rush” (2013) or even Drew Goddard’s “Bad Times at the El Royale” (2018). Of course, he’s known as Thor and this film makes a humorous nod to it, but when an animated character can outshine this rock star of an actor, something’s missing. His valiant attempt at comedy is noted, but nothing more than that and we know he’s capable given his performances in all of his “Avengers” films.

Nanjiani brings the necessary and much needed comedic tone, but unfortunately, he’s not a major player in the film so we have to cherish his screen time when it’s there. Nanjiani is a master of vocal timing as Pawny with his parenthetical remarks. He makes you sit up and listen so as not to miss his hilarious comments.

If you’ve watched the trailer, you know that Liam Neeson and Emma Thompson are also in it, however, not even their regaled skills can elevate the level of entertainment of “Men in Black: International.”

Overall, the film is missing heart and consistent humor, and becomes a failed attempt to keep the franchise going. To its credit, the film has a female lead and allows Nanjiani to shine as the comedic wonder that he is, but this is just not enough to make this film worth seeing.

“Men in Black: International” is a disappointment particularly if you are a fan of that 1997 version starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. The magic, humor, and chemistry of this pair cannot be replicated by Hemsworth and Thompson creating a lackluster fourth sequel. Please note that this film is rated PG-13 and not intended for kids under this age.

To read the review in the Friday, June 14, 2019 edition of The Daily Journal, go to THE DAILY JOURNAL

1 1/2 stars

“Aladdin” Disney updates story, message in live-action remake

May 22nd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Aladdin” Disney updates story, message in live-action remake”

Disney continues with its live-action remakes of their classic animated tales as it releases “Aladdin,” starring Will Smith as the Genie, Mena Massoud in the lead role of the beloved street thief Aladdin, and Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine. The question before us is, can Will Smith create the role of the Genie and make it his own or will we forever long for the Robin Williams’ version from 1992?

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

In expected Disney style, the film begins with vibrantly magical sweeping shots, creating the feeling of flying over the deep blue sea as we swoop down to meet a mariner and his children as he tells them a tall tale about a genie, a lamp, and a young man named Aladdin. We are then transported to a mystical time and place where we meet Aladdin and his monkey Abu, stealing and averting authorities and meeting a beautiful young woman. The story doesn’t appear to stray too far from the original, although with a running time of 30 additional minutes, there may be some additional—and unnecessary— scenes.

The pacing is what suffers slightly in this longer-running rendition, particularly in the middle of the film, which may elicit younger viewers to get a little wiggly in their seats. However, the energy picks back up in the final third of the film which is filled with impressively choreographed dance scenes and a few familiar songs. While the film is called “Aladdin,” it’s more of the Genie’s story and Smith uses his charm, looks, and style to bring a half CGI, half human character to life. The writers even bring us a love-interest side story for this chained yet powerful creature which is an unexpected and welcomed surprise. Smith makes this role his own and he shines in it, but if you’re a fan of the frenetically paced, uproariously funny Robin Williams version, he just doesn’t compare.

Massoud is extraordinary in his portrayal of a young man who knows his place in society, yet hopes that love can conquer all…with a little help from a genie. His lyrical voice captures your attention and your heart as he sings and dances his way in and out of trouble. Scott also shines in her role as the Princess with her expressively rich voice, and the writers take the time to allow her to have determination and intelligence which she easily conveys. Of course, she’s gorgeous, she is a Disney princess after all, but thankfully, there’s so much more to her than that.

Visually, this film is continually stunning with its jaw-droopingly gorgeous set designs and costuming. From elaborate castles to the forsaken desert, the Disney designers don’t miss a detail. The Far East allows for the use of bright and striking colors and the costumes reflect this perfectly. CGI is a character as well as it brings the Magic Carpet and Aladdin’s sidekick Abu to life and gives Smith’s on-screen presence an other-worldly feel. As Aladdin is frequently running away from situations and authorities, the extraordinary camera work takes you along on that chase, zipping in and out of tight spaces, over and under impossible roadblocks, to create dizzyingly exciting scenes. However, what appears to be missing, to a certain extent, is the humor. It’s funny, but it doesn’t have the comedic element that Williams was able to bring to the entire film. His style, talent, and memory cannot be superseded.

As we’ve come to expect from Disney, there are some life lessons in the film. The obvious ones regarding the evils of greed and power are there as well as the importance of word choice. Words do matter. The topic of gender equality also arises as the Princess tackles centuries of a patriarchal society, where women cannot be in a position of authority, let alone a sultan and she must marry to be successful in life. It’s another refreshing element to an updated Disney story.

“Aladdin” will reignite and to some extent reinvent the beloved Princess Jasmine story in live-action form. It’s a fun film with extraordinary special effects and designs as well as an updated vibe, but my heart holds Robin Williams in the role of the Genie and the classic animated version.

“John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum” is nothing more than a gluttonous onslaught of gratuitous violence

May 15th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““John Wick: Chapter 3-Parabellum” is nothing more than a gluttonous onslaught of gratuitous violence”

In the decade-long career of reviewing films, I cannot recall a more disturbingly grotesque display of violence in a film as I witnessed in “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” directed by Chad Stahelski and starring Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, and Laurence Fishburne. Wick (Reeves) returns as the member of the elite assassins group who broke the rules in “John Wick: Chapter 2” and killed a target on sacred ground…all in retaliation for killing his puppy dog. The consequences? He then becomes the mark with a high price on his head—direct orders from the “High Table.” He must fight to survive and make allies in order to have a hope of living life again. And that, my friends, is all you need to know if you missed out on the film’s two predecessors or if you’re being dragged and tortured to see this film as a severe punishment for some unforgivable sin.

The beginning of the film is dark and turns incredibly violent in the blink of an eye. There’s a gory pun there, but I’ll let you find that out if you still go see this movie after reading my review. In fact, it was so brutally shocking that audible explicatives were uttered involuntarily throughout the film, much to the surprise of my colleagues sitting next to me. The killings begin “by the book” and within moments, our visual onslaught becomes the high-speed chase scenes and long action shots filled with outstanding choreography setting the tone for the entire movie. Wick appears to be some sort of super hero, without being one, as he is able to bounce back after being stabbed in the shoulder, hit by a car, twice, crash through windows, plummet from stories above, and still fight like a ninja warrior.

There really isn’t much of a story in this film, although when The Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) shows up to mete out the consequences for her subordinates’ actions, there’s a promise that it just might get interesting. Unfortunately, that’s not what happens. The entire film is comprised of chase scenes, savage bloodshed that becomes mundane, and shots to the head killing faceless and nameless souls, ultimately creating a movie that is more like watching someone play a violent video game.

“John Wick: Chapter 3” is one of the most insipid movies of the decade. Some may argue that there’s humor in this film, and I would agree. Zero (Mark Dacascos) who is Wick’s biggest enemy and his biggest fan, provides a bit of unexpected levity, but it’s not enough to forgive this film its greatest transgression—no story. Much to my surprise, the audience seemed to find many of the most repulsive savagery laugh out loud funny.

Were the special effects impressive? Yes. So impressive that the hatchet to the head will forever be ingrained in my memory. And there are the multiple brain bursts against stone walls as the bullet explodes “the enemies” faces which in turn elicited high anxiety as I drove aggressively home from Chicago that night. There are also incredible motorcycle and horseback chase scenes that still boggle my mind as to how they were performed. And finally, the hand-to-hand combat choreography was as well-orchestrated as any Boshoi Ballet performance.

However, none of this impressive implementation of stunts or effects can make up for the lack of a story. And given this lack of any substance, is it possible to find characters that you care about? No. In fact, no actual acting is necessary in this film especially given the fact that there’s barely any dialogue. And any utterance from Wick is as flatlined as the myriad number of dead bodies piled up. I ask you this. How many times can you watch one person and sometimes a team of two fire a bullet to the groin, then body, then the head? This, too, becomes a trance-like dance: shoot the groin, shoot the body, shoot the head, fall, repeat.

The film created as many situations as possible to skirmish, as if going through a check-list, covering all bases including a gun fight under water. There’s even a portion of the film that adds attack German Shepherds for a change of pace. Again, the cinematography is extraordinary, working under extremely difficult conditions and set-ups with long shots of well-orchestrated combat scenes, but can you really watch over 2 hours of this alone?

I harken back to the wise words of Robert Redford—Is it a good story told well? And the answer to this question is a resounding, “No!”

“John Wick: Chapter 3” is going to the top of my list for worst film of the decade. Skip this absolute piece garbage.

1 Stars for the cinematographers and choreographers

“Buffaloed” A top film at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival

May 8th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Buffaloed” A top film at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival”

Screenwriter Brian Sacca hands over the directing reigns to the talented Tanya Wexler as she tackles the real-life subject of the unscrupulous scavengers known as debt collectors in a fictional tale starring Zoey Deutch. The story takes place in the booming metropolis of Buffalo, NY, known for and priding itself on Buffalo Wild Wings (Anchor Bar or Duffs?) and the Buffalo Bills. With a sprinkling of The Big Short style to this story we learn everything about the entity of unregulated debt collecting while laughing out loud.

Bouncing back and forth in time and using narration to get us up to speed, Peg (Deutch) explains how she came to a point of wielding a gun and screaming at the top of her lungs. She’s whip-smart, but when she pits herself against the head honcho in the “industry,” she finds that debts aren’t always financial ones. It’s a high-paced, quick-witted film that capitalizes on the charisma of its lead actress and a story that is as engaging as it is informative and entertaining. With a supporting cast the likes of Judy Greer who plays Peg’s mom, Jai Courtney as a mob boss and a cast of personable misfits as her crew, it’s a winning equation.

3 1/2 stars

For more great films made by women at this year’s festival, go to FF2 Media

“Long Shot” Makes a political-rom-com a winner

May 3rd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Long Shot” Makes a political-rom-com a winner”

Can there possible be such a thing as a political rom-com that appeals to everyone no matter what side of the fence they reside? The combination sounds impossible, but “Long Shot,” starring Charlize Theron and Seth Rogan, does it with impeccable skill. Charlotte (Theron) is a high power political figure as the Secretary of State who, by chance, bumps into a rebellious journalist who she used to babysit for. The unlikely pair team up in a run for the upcoming presidential election, creating hilarious and unexpectedly charming situations.

Charlotte has always been a go-getter. With her single-minded drive and determination, she works under President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) who used to play a president on television. Charlotte’s frustration is evident, but she plays by the books, her intelligence always keeping her one step ahead. Fred Flarsky (Rogan) is unkempt, volatile, but passionate about exposing the truth and never compromising his integrity, but as his “independent” newspaper is bought by a big-money tycoon, he quits…on principle, but those principles don’t pay the bills. Seeking solace in his best friend whose beyond successful, Lance, (O’Shea Jackson), the two hit the high profile party scene, and Fred makes a memorable if not awkward impression on Charlotte.

Fred becomes Charlotte’s speech writer and the two get reacquainted, both helping one another to become a better person, but as the two could not be more opposite, Charlotte becomes an easy target for manipulation, pushing the boundaries of her unyielding moral compass. Incorporating all the snares of public life that we are constantly exposed to such as social media platforms, videos, and good old fashioned blackmailing, the story becomes a lesson in what’s important. It’s an unlikely pairing and a fast-paced, crazy story that is completely consuming (and even a little believable) as they expound upon the realities of the world which is always watching.

Rogan, unkempt and dressed from a by-gone era, is certainly type cast in this role, but that’s a good thing as he hones his comedic skills and elevates his game with the “Hollywood royalty” as Jackson recently described Theron in a recent interview. As polar opposite as he seems to Theron, the two have chemistry and create a magic that captures your heart as you root for the two to succeed…however that may be defined.

Theron always plays a tough, smart woman who is not to be underestimated and now we can add comic wonder to her list of skills. Her timing is impeccable as she plays off of Rogan and her subtle gestures and expressions land a lot of laughs effortlessly. We also see her push the boundaries we have set for her as she reaches outside of the box to create an unpredictable character.

The entire cast is stellar, supporting the lead actors with deft skill. June Diane Raphael plays Maggie, the uptight, judgmental political assistant and advisor to Charlotte who never overplays her part, but slips right into the role easily. Jackson knocks his performance out to the park to create one of the most memorable supporting roles this year. Co-writers Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah give him an opportunity to shine and deliver a shocking twist that makes you not only laugh out loud, but also actually think about your own preconceived notions.

While this film, on the surface, is merely a comedy, there’s so much more to it. The characters are all well-developed with our main characters are richly layered in a way that we connect with them. Given the political environment that consumes us today, the film reels us back and helps to ground our thoughts making it a more insightful film than expected.

“Long shot” is a surprise on every level. It’s a rom-com with subtle political overtones that harmoniously coordinate to give us a film that just might rival “When Harry Met Sally” for a new decade of viewers.

4 Stars

“Avengers: Endgame” Is a dynamic, dramatic, and hilarious film worth all 181 minutes

April 24th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Avengers: Endgame” Is a dynamic, dramatic, and hilarious film worth all 181 minutes”

“Avengers: Endgame” is one of the most highly anticipated films of the year as the answers to all the fans’ questions come into clear focus and the super hero worlds not only overlap, but collide in surprising ways. It’s an all-star arena filled with “marvel”ous characters in a fight for life, humanity, and the future of the world and the universe. (Don’t worry–no spoilers ahead!)

The evil Thanos (Josh Brolin) possesses all the Infinity Stones making him the most powerful being in the universe. And with that power, he has cursed the world, culling the population by 50%. “Endgame” picks up exactly where “Infinity War” left off and it’s an affective beginning as we see Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) with his loving family enjoying their time together only to be turned to dust. The impact of this emotionally loaded initial scene is unexpectedly shocking and not only are we hooked, we care about and relate to this family and Hawkeye’s devastation. And then the opening credits begin to roll.

Fast forward to 5 years later and the catastrophic results of Thanos’ work is more than evident— cities are in a state of shambles, but the oceans and natural environment are beginning to balance once again. The remaining super hero allies band together in what seems to be a losing battle to right this sinking ship and not a spark of hope is detected among them…until an Avenger thought to be dead, resurfaces. And this is where the fun begins!

From the depths of an emotionally heavy load, we are immediately bouyed into hilarious one-liners, side notes, and quick-paced dialogue and antics to remind us why we love comic books. Without giving one surprise away (I fear losing friends if I do), “Endgame” ranks up in the comedy hierarchy with the hilarity of stand alone super hero films like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ironman.” With references to some of our favorite films of the last 40 years and costuming that transforms these heroes into unexpected yet disturbingly funny renditions of themselves, for most of the 3 hour 1 minute (yes, you read that correctly) running time, it’s a captivatingly intriguing and funny film while it still creates an entertainingly entangled story to wrap your head around.

The story truly needed most of that 3 hour time period in order to create the thorough and emotionally dynamic storyline, although the last 30 minutes could have been edited quite a bit as the CGI begins to feel a bit mundane. (But that’s my issue with every super hero film.) I must admit that it’s a complicated story that intellectually makes sense as it delves into the waters of our environment and the cost of humanity and our memories. It is these memories that make us human and compassionate; an element that adheres us to one another. The writers cover all their bases, leaving no possible stone unturned, pulling you into their vortex of logic and reason while they connect you to the characters. Every past story is covered in well-balanced detail and of course, we have the directors and actors to thank for bringing such textured performances to those words on the page.

Watching this all-star cast in their respective roles feels like a family reunion, everyone knowing each other like family, the good and the bad. They love one another and have their squabbles, only to have each others’ backs when they need to. They are family. There’s a comfort in seeing this relaxed and familiar camaraderie even during times of dire situations and it is this interaction among and between the characters that not only propels the story, but engages us. We have become an invested part of this family.

“Endgame” showcases female empowerment, too, as we watch them rise to any challenge, physically, emotionally, and intellectually, and these women shine. To single out any particular female super hero would be to spoil the film, so I won’t. Suffice it to say, the it’s a male-female gender balanced film.

This is also a visually powerful film. The action is impressive as are the special effects and while this is what makes fans of this genre happy, it’s the levity that Ironman, Thor, Rocket, Ant Man and Quill bring to the table. When Robert Downey, Jr. Paul Rudd, and Chris Hemsworth interact, you have a comedy team that could make the Queen of England belly laugh. All three of these actors have the comedic timing and pacing to get the most from their lines and scenes, but when the dramatic elements are needed, they are at the ready, adding just the right touch and never doing so in a heavy-handed way.

“Avengers: Endgame” was a wonderful surprise, filling almost each and every minute with excitement, drama, humor and visually interesting and entertaining intrigue. While the 3 hour running time was a bit long, needing a 10-minute edit, that’s not a huge detractor from the film. It’s a strong story, great acting and directing, and a wonderfully well-balanced film on every level. If you’ve seen all of the Marvel movies, and this truly is a must to get full enjoyment from “Endgame,” the film is perfect escapism and an all ‘round good time. (No need to stay after the credits roll.)

4 Stars

Chicago filmmaker Clare Cooney’s “Runner” available on VOD

April 20th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Chicago filmmaker Clare Cooney’s “Runner” available on VOD”

What would you do, truly, if you witnessed an accidental, yet brutal murder? First-time filmmaker Clare Cooney plunges herself into that question in this captivating short film “Runner.”

Cooney stars in this thriller as Becca, a young woman going on a routine run in her neighborhood on a wintry day in Chicago. Stopping in the alley behind her apartment, ear pods in, music muting the situation before her, we see what she sees…a man and woman arguing. Suddenly, the woman is struck and she collapses. With eye contact made, Becca responds to fight or flight and she runs.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

How she responds next is chillingly real. Finding safety in her apartment and with her boyfriend, her emotions pour, but her decision whether or not to report this man is what’s in question. Learning of the demise of the woman in the alley punctuates the emotional impact and trauma Becca experiences in her every day life, but where is this man? Does he live in her neighborhood? Will she ever bump into him? There’s a feeling of terror bubbling beneath the surface as Becca attempts to go back to her regular daily activities. It’s a visceral experience as we watch Becca in every scene, connecting with her, eliciting our heart to race in suspense, fearing for her safety. Internalizing her emotions, we question what we would do, but the film becomes even more profound as it delves subtly into gender issues of power and intimidation.

“Runner” is an extraordinary portrayal of one woman’s strength and integrity as she is thrust into life and death situations and moral ambiguity for self preservation. Cooney’s depth of character allows us to sense the complexity of the situation and the heightened emotional response, always with authenticity. With this, we are able to walk, or should I say, run, in her shoes, feeling as she does and thinking her every thought.

Cooney, wearing the hats of writer, director, editor, producer, and actress, demonstrates proficiency expected from a seasoned filmmaker, not a first-timer. Not for one minute is any aspect of this film compromised in her overwhelming attempt to wear all of these hats. The script is succinct, the camera work is exceptional, augmenting the storyline, and the overall production value on par with any “big” film. And with a $900 budget, an acting ensemble cast that supports her vision, an experienced co-producer, Shane Simmons, and one of the most promising Chicago cinematographers, Jason Chiu (“Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party” and “Mercury in Retrograde”), Cooney has set the tone for success.

This multiple award-winning short film is available online on Omeleto Channel beginning Tuesday, April 23rd.
OMELETO CHANNEL-YOUTUBE

“Breakthrough” Uplifting, but heavy-handed

April 20th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Breakthrough” Uplifting, but heavy-handed”

What could be better at this time of year, just before Easter Sunday, than the Christian-themed film “Breakthrough?” This uplifting, faith-affirming film stars Topher Grace (“Blackkklansman”), Chrissy Metz (“This Is Us”) and Marcel Ruiz and is based on a true story from St. Charles, Mo., in 2015.

The story is an amazing and inexplicable one, but unfortunately, the writer felt the need to hit you over the head with its messages of “have faith” and “the power of love.”

It’s a heavy-handed portrayal of these real life events as you always feel that you are watching a movie or even a play where the director is telling her actors, “Everyone look happy to be in school and you love each other!”

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

Director Gillian Greene on Comedy “Fanboy” and Finding Humor in Everyday Life

April 15th, 2019 Posted by News, Review 0 thoughts on “Director Gillian Greene on Comedy “Fanboy” and Finding Humor in Everyday Life”

Hollywood appears to be ground zero for #MeToo and #TimesUp which has opened the eyes of all and the doors for women, especially in creating director seats. While we still have a long way to go, one woman, Gillian Greene, who’s been a part of Hollywood her entire life, is seated comfortably in that director’s chair and released her short film “Fanboy” via Amazon on March 22. While the film was only meant to demonstrate her skills as a director to get work for feature films, Greene wanted to share this charming comedy about a South Carolina video store employee (Fran Kranz) who dreams of being in Sam Raimi’s sequel to “For Love of the Game” and tries his hand at the Hollywood scene.

The vivacious mother of five who’s husband is Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man”) and is the daughter of the beloved actor Lorne Greene (“Bonanza”) spoke with me recently about making “Fanboy,” her life, and what’s next. (Edited for length and clarity.)

To read the interview as it appears in the Monday, April 15, 2019 edition, go to CINEMA FEMME

EBERTFEST Q&A’s prove to be unpredictably hilarious

April 14th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “EBERTFEST Q&A’s prove to be unpredictably hilarious”

Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon entertain a packed house at Ebertfest for their film BOUND. Watch the entire Q&A here: EBERTFEST

David Mirkin sets the record straight and sings a little song during his Q&A for ROMY AND MICHELE’S HIGH SCHOOL REUNION. Watch the entire Q&A here: EBERTFEST

4th DOC10 Film Festival is right around the corner

April 9th, 2019 Posted by News, Review 0 thoughts on “4th DOC10 Film Festival is right around the corner”

The Chicago Media Project’s Doc10 Film Festival is gearing up for its fourth year with 10 award-winning documentaries from other film festivals, such as the prestigious 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

The festival will take place April 11-14 in Lincoln Square at the Davis Theatre (4614 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago). It will showcase thought-provoking films, a VR-RV (Virtual Reality), special panel discussions and workshops as well as opening and closing night parties.

The films touch upon politics (“Knock Down The House,” “Mike Wallace is Here”) and our current immigration system (“The Infiltrators”) to environmental issues (“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch”) and religious beliefs (“Hail Satan?”) and more.
TO READ THE ARTICLE IN ITS ENTIRETY AS PUBLISHED IN THE APRIL 6 EDITION OF THE DAILY JOURNAL, GO TO
THE DAILY JOURNAL

“The Brink”-Director Alison Klayman’s gives insight to her new documentary

April 6th, 2019 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on ““The Brink”-Director Alison Klayman’s gives insight to her new documentary”

Never in recent memory has there been such a volatile time in politics than today and one man has added his own fuel to the fire—Steve Bannon. Director Alison Klayman has opened the doors into this man’s life with her new film “The Brink,” giving viewers a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes action and the inner workings of politics like never seen before.

TRAILER TO THE BRINK

Klayman, responsible for documentary works of art such as “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” and “The 100 Years Show,” recently spoke with me about her journey, both literally and figuratively, as she captured Bannon from all angles shedding light onto a subject previously existing in the shadows.

The concept of this film came from Marie Therese Guirgis with whom Klayman had collaborated for “The 100 Years Show.” Guirgis had worked closely with Bannon at Wellspring Media for three years and Klayman described that they had a good working relationship. She reported that the two had fallen out of touch “…until he burst on the scene of the Trump campaign…and she got back in touch with him, frankly to send him angry letters saying that she was really disappointed in him…”. These letters continued throughout Trump’s election and Bannon’s time in the White House, but the tipping point came after the Muslim Travel Ban and Guirgis “let him have it.” She shared, “ I witnessed the way she talks to him. She’s really not holding back.” But soon after, Guirgis realized that perhaps this candid relationship could be brought to a greater use which is was the spark for “The Brink.”

Approached by Guirgis to participate in this vérité style of film, Bannon initially declined, but eventually welcomed the proposal. Klayman, before accepting the director’s position, wanted to meet Bannon. Maria introduced the two, and before Bannon agreed, Guirgis “was in full form,” Klayman chuckled, worried that he wouldn’t agree under these circumstances. And this was just the beginning of peering through the Lookingglass, a term Klayman said that was used as an first working title of the film.

Klayman and Bannon traveled together around the country and the world for 13 months as she captured more than 100 hours of footage which were then distilled into the film we see today. While we see glimpses of Klayman’s personal viewpoint, the filmmaker expressed that she took great care in her editing process to create fairness in the film. “I felt like the strength of the movie would come from a fair treatment of the subject and the material. That didn’t mean that I came in as a neutral member of society. I think that would be a lie.” She continued, “This film has a filmmaker. Here are the clues to how the filmmaker sees this story.” She added, “ Documentary film is not just the facts ma’am kind of a thing, but I thought it needed to be fair in the sense that I was there to make a story out of what I actually found, not what I wanted to find or what I expected to find.” Klayman punctuated the fact that she was profoundly careful in her editing, saying, “If I found a person who was charming people and had charisma, I can’t cut that out. I can’t take a scene and edit it manipulatively, that will discredit the whole piece.”

Klayman had remarkable access to meetings, dinners, and casual moments with politicians and far right leaders from around the world. While she sometimes was limited in what she filmed, stating that she was occasionally “invited to leave,” indicating the private conversations were off limits for public knowledge, she was particularly proud of being able to film the meeting with global extremist leaders in London. She gave Bannon credit in calling him a “great advocate” as he would encourage others to be a part of the film.

In addition to the leaders, Klayman captured Bannon’s interviews with renowned and respected journalists, many who had heated conversations with Trump’s right hand man. In her down time, oftentimes waiting with the journalists for their time with Bannon, she explained her position to them as an independent filmmaker. Met with initial skepticism, which Klayman understood, most welcomed her filming and were excited to see the final product as journalists “don’t get the time or the space to write that kind of piece.”

The intimate and candid moments Klayman captured were not only eye-opening, but mind-boggling. From conversations with John Thornton, the former president of Goldman-Sachs to private meetings with Lena Epstein and John James, Congressional and Senate candidates in Michigan in 2018, Klayman was proud of the fact that these particular scenes “…raised a lot of questions I don’t have answers to.” However, she feels confident that the hypocrisy, false information, and “…the fact that a lot of Bannon’s messaging when it comes to helping people, the little guy, being revolutionary, with a different view of economics, that, to me, if anything, that shows that that’s false.” She deduced that he is not a threat to the super rich and that both he and Trump want the same thing. “I think that was really important to show.”

What is the ultimate goal of the film? Klayman hopes that the role of the media in upcoming elections is discussed; “…not whether to cover these people, but how.” She added, “As we have more elections coming up in the EU in 2020, it’s crucial to have a more thoughtful discussion…questions about who is funding these far right movements and how do we keep them honest about what they’re really fighting for and what they’re really doing. To me, those are the things that transcend and are still vitally important. And frankly, the cast of characters you see in the film are all also not going away…so who knows what’s going to come next.”

Bannon, as a courtesy, was shown the finished film prior to its premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. His response was guarded which Klayman interpreted as his way of waiting to see what the press thought of the film. “I think that’s what matters most to him.”

Education and knowledge are power and this powerful documentary, “The Brink, seen as a fly on the wall, allows you to ask and sometimes answer your own questions that will no doubt be relevant in the next news cycle, global election, and the 2020 campaign.

“The Public” shines a light on homelessness

April 3rd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Public” shines a light on homelessness”

Emilio Estevez is no stranger to the filmmaking world, but with his critically acclaimed film “The Way,” viewers began to see him and his talents in a new way. Now, Estevez writes, directs and stars in “The Public” surrounding himself with an all-star supporting cast including Christian Slater, Alec Baldwin, Taylor Schilling, Jeffrey Wright, and Michael Kenneth Williams, as he addresses the relevant topic of homelessness in our country.

Stuart is a librarian in Cincinnati, Ohio during a polar vortex. The homeless population has come to expect use of the library as shelter from the brutal winter conditions during the day, but as the cold begins to kill at night, Stuart takes action at the suggestion of a homeless man, Jackson (Williams), to keep the library open at night. Timing couldn’t be better as a local political race ensues, pitting a slick litigator against a media savvy preacher. Add to the mix a ratings-needy news anchor who tries to find the best angle to cover the event, and everyone’s world is impacted.

Stuart is a quiet man, living a quiet life until he meets Angela (Schilling), his building superintendent. We see a sweet charm about Stuart as we see the sparks begin to fly, but there’s also a certain calmness about him as he interacts with the homeless men and women awaiting the library doors to open. Compassion and respect are always at the forefront, endearing us more to this character, but when his job security is threatened, he finds himself at a crossroads and he plunges down a path with unknown consequences, tossing the balls of politics, ethics, and government in the air.

Finding humor in a film about homelessness seems impossible, but writer and director Emilio Estevez balances this like a professional tightrope walker; knowing that if he sways too far in one direction, he and the film will fall. He remains focused and steady as the story unfolds. The reality of the dramatic elements of how the homeless become that way and how they survive is heavy, yet not crushing. There’s also a comedically charming aspect of his new love interest and downright hilarious situations that occur on an every day basis at the library. “Sitting around reading books” is not what happens here!

While the main topic of the film is homelessness, there are many other subplots that develop throughout the film such as addiction as Detective Bill Ramstead (Baldwin) searches for his missing son, a drug addict. He’s torn as an officer of the law and a father whose never-ending love to help his son becomes his priority in life. Slater creates a slimy and very unlikeable, but intelligent lawyer/politician whose narcissism and ego steer his every move. Estevez creates a multilayered story and doesn’t forget to include how media impacts and influences our perception of events, all with a splash of humor and maybe even a little sweet revenge.

Estevez, wearing the three hats of writer, director, and star, could be a daunting task, but he easily and skillfully delivers on all three fronts. His portrayal of Stuart draws you to him as you know his backstory is an interesting one and you yearn to know more. There’s a sadness in his eyes and his body language exudes a heavy load that he has carried punctuated by the compassionate utterances as he interacts with everyone, no matter their position. It’s one of his best performances.

The film has so many stars, many of whom take their smaller, supporting roles and make them shine, helping to create a meaningful and thoughtful story. Slater comfortably creates his despicable role and Wright is kind yet conflicted as the head librarian who must make difficult and contrary decisions. Williams is extraordinary in his performance as a homeless man with his finger on the pulse of his community. His portrayal brings humanity to his situation and changes how you perceive the next man, woman, or child you see on the street.

“The Public” creates an engaging and entertaining film as it highlights very real social issues that plague our society today. With thoughtful dialogue and character development, no matter how small, we can walk in another’s shoes for a few miles. Shouldn’t every film to that?

3 1/2 Stars

“The View From Tall” a modern day ‘Scarlet Letter’

April 2nd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The View From Tall” a modern day ‘Scarlet Letter’”

Co-directors Caitlin Parrish and Erica Weiss tell a complicated story of a 17 year-old high school senior whose life takes a different direction after having an affair with her teacher. Amanda Drinkall and Michael Patrick Thornton star in this poignant and impactful tale, particularly in the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp.

The opening scene creates an immediate sense of compassion for Justine (Drinkall) who is shunned not only by her parents and sister, but her classmates as well. From glaring stares in the hall to physical intimidation in the classroom, Justine seems to be the victim of intense bullying. As the story begins to take shape through her sessions with a mandatory therapist, Douglas (Thornton), we begin to understand what has happened to this young woman. The punishment she receives from her family, friends, and community for being a victim, although initially she is unaccepting of this title, is beyond comprehension, yet the film demonstrates how easily this can and probably does occur. It is this exploration of sexuality and consent that is perfectly demonstrated in various situations that makes this story so insightful and extraordinary.

Justine’s breaking point severs her professional relationship with Douglas, but awkwardly we see a true friendship develop between the two as they both need a friend in their respective times of need. The writer has set up a delicate balancing act as we see Justine as a vulnerable yet wise teen and Douglas as an older man with high integrity. With this, we hold our breath, waiting for the next shoe to fall, the tension continually building, hoping we can breathe a sigh of relief.

Justine is heads and shoulders above her peers, physically and intellectually, although emotionally she is still a teen and responds like any other 17 year-old. Her relationship with her parents is strained to say the least, and we discover the harsh realities of both her parents’ reactions to her actions as well as other adults. And a sisterly friendship has gone devastatingly awry, as Paula (Carolyn Braver) deceives and denies Justine repeatedly. Justine’s intrinsic fortitude is imperative to her survival and most of us would have buckled under such pressure and scrutiny.

The storyline is reminiscent of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” as Justine is ostracized and ridiculed for her behavior. There are also assumptions about her character and therefore her rights as a human and a woman based on the fact that a teacher crossed a boundary. Justine is the guilty party in everyone’s eyes, not the teacher. We see everyone’s viewpoint regarding what happened and the humiliation and punishment Justine constantly receives. It’s heartbreaking, particularly as Justine looks back at the particular crossroad in her life, taking her down this life-changing road.

Drinkall and Thornton are extraordinary in these very complicated and deeply layered roles. Their genuine performances bring authenticity to not only their characters, but to the story itself. Both find nuanced subtleties to connect you to their characters and allow you to understand their thoughts and emotions. In fact, the entire cast is incredible and Braver shines as a typical teen, unable to handle her sister’s situation and the unrealistic expectations of her parents.

“The View from Tall” is a gripping story depicting sensitive topics told with deft skill. From underage drinking and eating disorders to bullying and rape, this film finds a way to gently tell a brutal story. And it’s not without humor, as Drinkall’s character is exceptionally bright and as she grows stronger, understanding her situation, she uses her razor sharp wit to cut those who deserve to receive it. Set in Chicago with an incredible musical score, this is a film to see.

Watch the film via FLIX PREMIERE or AMAZON

4 Stars

SHAZAM! is one of a kind

March 23rd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “SHAZAM! is one of a kind”

SHAZAM! Another super hero movie? Do we really need one? The answer, in this case, is a resounding YES! The DC Universe got this one right. “Shazam,” starring Zachary Levi, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Asher Angel, is written by Henry Gayden and directed by David F. Sandberg and this team creates an immediately engaging, funny, sweet, and sometimes scary story about life as we enter a world where good and evil fight hand to hand or sometimes lightning bolt to lightning bolt combat. “Shazam!” is exactly what a super hero movie is supposed to be—fun and complete entertaining escapism.

The story is loosely based on the original comic book series by C.C. Beck and all you comic book aficionados will have great joy in identifying the Easter eggs sprinkled throughout the film, but for those of us who are clueless about the genre, Gayden more than adequately lays the foundation for the story of Billy Batson (Angel) aka Shazam (Levi).

We begin in 1974, winter in Upstate New York, where a father and his two sons are driving the country snow-filled back roads to grandfather’s house when Thad, Magic 8 Ball in hand, is suddenly in the presence of The Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who is searching for a pure soul to take his place in protecting the world from the 7 evils locked away in stone surrounding him. Failing the test, Thad is shot back into reality and a nearly tragic accident. It’s a jarring beginning to a film, but it lays a firm foundation and by no means is the overall tone for the film.

Fast forward to the turn of the century and we meet the young Billy who is separated from his mother. In a loss at finding her, Billy is placed in foster homes, one after another. He’s a delinquent constantly in search of his mother, hoping she has been doing the same. Placed in yet another foster home filled with an eclectic mix of kids, Billy makes no attempt to fit in, but he finds himself in front of The Wizard, reluctantly accepting his powers and this is where the fun begins as this 14 year-old transforms back and forth into a man with incredible powers, but still has the mentality of a boy.

Billy befriends his disabled foster brother who is a geeky expert on all things super hero. Together they test Billy’s new-found powers as his discovery of his new self lands him in hilarious situations, preparing him for his ultimate and yet unknown nemesis.

“Shazam!” takes us all back in time to our youth reminding us of how bullies wreak havoc and the social awkwardness of being a kid. Additionally, it creates a loving tone accentuating the importance of family and what that really means.

Angel and Grazer are magical together on screen typifying two polar opposites, but both with bold personalities that immediately connect you. Angel creates a hardened exterior with a heart of gold and we watch this young boy grow. He’s funny and energetic with an innocence of childhood yet this broken heart of his casts a shadow on his every move. This young actor has a bright future ahead of him proving that he can already find a way to create depth in what could have been a very superficial performance. Grazer equals Angel’s performance, embodying a boy with more hurdles to jump over than most of us can imagine. His quick wit and style of speech brings a sense of compassion and understanding to his character as you forget about his disability…something his character can never do.

While Angel and Glazer shine, it’s Levi’s ingenious efforts that are truly striking as he makes us believe he’s actually a 14 year old kid beneath that chiseled adult exterior. The genius doesn’t stop there as he is a gifted comedian, having fun and highlighting his timing and physically comedic attributes.

In fact, the entire cast of kids in the foster home, Mary (Grace Fulton), Eugene (Ian Chen), Pedro (Jovan Armand) and Darla (Faithe Herman) are simply marvelous, but it is Faithe who steals every scene she’s in. To describe her as adorable is an understatement and her need to hug everyone elicits an audible sigh from the audience whenever she says a word.

“Shazam!” is what a comic book movie should be—funny, charming, heartfelt, and just a good story told really well. Even the too long final fight scene that is in every comic book film doesn’t take itself so seriously (a cue upon which other super hero movies should use) so that flaw can be forgiven at least a bit. This is a laugh out loud funny movie that, as Levi said in a recent screening here in Chicago, may require ear muffs (PG-13), it’s a movie the entire family can enjoy! (Check out the video from that screening on YouTube HERE

3 1/2 Stars

“Woman at War” Gorgeously balanced thriller

March 23rd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Woman at War” Gorgeously balanced thriller”

Can one woman save Iceland and stop the envrironmental devastation from a large industry? Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) certainly thinks she can, but is she ready for the consequences and the unexpected interpretation of her actions? The film’s universal message is an entertaining and thought-provoking one as the writers Benedikt Erlingsson and Ólafur Egilsson maintain a sense of whimsy throughout the film.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Halla is tough as nails as we meet this woman who reminds us of a Marvel superhero, Hawkeye, bow and arrow in hand as she expertly stops the electrical flow to an aluminum processing plant, Rio Tinto. As a major producer of this mineral and economic influencer of the country, her actions momentarily paralyze the region. The political action from around the world takes notice and with a small circle of friends who help her, she ups her game, intent on making people wake up to how we are devastating our earth.

On the surface, Halla appears to be a typical middle-aged woman, living life and teaching a choral group. Beneath that exterior lies a rebelliously intelligent woman with a heart of gold. Her goal of saving the world is a lofty and pure one, but as we soon learn, it may be at the cost of her immediate happiness. She finds that perhaps saving one might be as important as saving the world.

This is a gorgeous film as it captures the beauty of Iceland with its mountains, waterfalls, moss-covered lava rocks, streams, and indigenous people. Balancing dramatic elements and serious subjects such as climate change, dirty politics, the economy, and fighting big business with elements of comedy is a tough act, but director Benedikt Erlingsson does so with ease. No matter the scene, whether it’s running through the countryside away from her enemies, carrying out her well-planned acts of destruction for the greater good, or swimming with her twin sister at a community pool, a trio of musicians accompanies her. Initially perplexing, the band is there to augment her feelings and while the viewer and Halla are aware of their existence, no one else is. Additionally, we meet a hapless Spanish hiker who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but this helps divert attention away from Halla, the benign woman who people think could never be responsible for such acts of “terrorism.”

The action in the film picks up quickly as Halla runs from the U.S. experts that have come in to save the political day and find the group that is responsible for interfering with the industry of Iceland. It becomes a cat and mouse game, heightening the anxiety of the viewer as Halla must use her intellect and common sense as well as her family connections, which if you’re familiar with Iceland, cousins are everywhere, to make her mark and save the world from eminent doom.

Geirharðsdóttir’s performance is exquisite as she expertly portrays a woman of both physical and intellectual strength. Her depth of character is equally extraordinary as she allows us to peel away the layers, revealing who she was and what is truly missing in her life. It is this element, becoming a mother to an orphaned girl, that is her crossroads in life. Again, balance is an element not only in the film, but in the main character which ultimately connects us with her emotionally. We believe in her, we are empathetic as she is outraged by the consequences of her actions, and most importantly, we root for her to win…one woman at war with the powers that be.

“Woman at War” is a gorgeously thoughtful, intense thriller filled with just the right touch of comedy throughout to give us an entertaining film that has social relevance to our world today. The twists and turns it takes will have you on the edge of your seat until the very end. Can one woman make a difference? Check it out at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago and other theaters nationally to find out.

4/4 Stars

An interview with Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, writer and director of “The Mustang”

March 22nd, 2019 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “An interview with Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, writer and director of “The Mustang””

The following is an excerpt from FF2 Media:

Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre creates “The Mustang,” a revelatory film about a hopeless, isolated incarcerated man (Mattias Shoenaerts) who enters into a horse training rehabilitation program. Gorgeously shot, this evocative and soulful film delves into our penal system as it draws parallel lines between all creatures. Premiering at Sundance Film Festival, “The Mustang” is now playing in theaters. I had the opportunity to talk with Clermont-Tonnerre about the making of this film, working with Mattias Shoenaerts and Bruce Dern, and her hopes for the impact of this film.
To read the interview in its entirety as published in FF2 Media, March 21, 2019, go to FF2 Media

4/4 Stars

“Us” is a mixed bag of horror, comedy, and inexplicable twists

March 20th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Us” is a mixed bag of horror, comedy, and inexplicable twists”

Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” pleased critics and audiences alike with an original concept that was as creepy as it was funny. We are expecting a lot from his newest film, “Us” which premiered to rave reviews at the SXSW Film Festival. Can it and he live up to all the hype? The answer is yes and no. It’s a mixed bag this time as he creates a crazy story that focuses more on the twists in the road than the road itself.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

It’s 1986 in Santa Cruz, CA at an amusement park where little Adelaide (Madison Curry) wanders off into a house of mirrors. With worried parents, the little girl returns, but seems traumatized. What actually happened in that house will haunt Adelaide forever. Fast forward to the current day and Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and her family return to a vacation home near the fateful site where she disappeared as a youngster. With a gut-sinking feeling that she and her family are in danger, she wants to leave, but it’s too late. The apocalypse has begun and we witness the bizarre and gruesome tale unfold in the dark of night in a cabin in the woods.

Peele masterfully sets up an eerie and spine-chilling vibe as young Adelaide wanders off, slowly and deliberately, candy apple in hand, capturing her trance-like reaction to her surroundings. We are with her every step of the way, holding our breath as she enters a “Beetlejuice” type of house complete with a neon arrow showing the way. Jumping at the corniest of things, the image Adelaide sees before her makes her (and us) gasp. We now know what we are in for as the family comes back to the scene of the incident 30 years later.

“Us” showcases Peele’s seemingly innate ability to perfectly blend comedy and horror with the timing of a Swiss watch. Unfortunately, after the initial set up of the premise, the film becomes an exercise in typical horror gore. The family is being chased, they make stupid decisions, and blood is spilled…lots and lots of blood. Thankfully, Peele and his cast expertly continue the humor to pull us out of the shock of the brutality, allowing us to stick with it. As we learn the truth about what lies beneath our green grass, we yearn to find out how this family will survive. That’s great writing, but Peele sets up so many possible paths and red herrings throughout the film, that we feel like the rug has been pulled out from under us. And the use of a speech to explain everything in the last 20 minutes is a let down. It feels much like a classroom where the teacher dutifully spells out what actually had been going on deep inside this other realm.

While there are issues with the twists that still don’t quite square up, and to describe them would be a major spoiler, the acting from this ensemble cast is stellar. Curry’s portrayal of young Adelaide is exceptional as she is responsible for setting the tone of the entire film. That’s an incredible weight to carry and she does so with ease. Nyong’o creates two totally different personas and never do we question the “fact” that we are seeing two people on screen. Her eyes are wonderfully expressive, allowing us to understand her every thought immediately as the caring, loving mom who will do anything to save her children. Then there’s her doppelgänger who she portrays with a soulless void. Winston Duke (Gabe) adds most of the humor with his actions and reactions, both physically and verbally, lightening the heaviness of the brutal carnage that ensues. And the kids, Shahadi Wright Joseph (Zora) and Evan Alex (Jason), find the depth to give us double performances, again never questioning that there are two different people before us.

With any horror film, camera work has to be as much of a character as the actual actors. Having actors portray two different people, frequently on screen at the same time, takes some heaving lifting and it works. Additionally, and with utmost skill, the cameras have a way of making us peer around the corner to see what’s ahead. It also gives a sense of dread as it follows the characters from behind or blinding us from seeing, allowing us to only hearing what’s to come.

“Us” is a typical horror film in many ways, but the consistent humor throughout elevates it, but not to the level of Peele’s first blockbuster that had powerful social statements, humor and horror. With “Us,” it feels as if he was more interested in surprising the audience with zingers and entertaining with gore than giving us a consistently good story. And it will behoove you to look in the Bible for Jeremiah 11:11 before you go. Trust me.

3 Stars

Archives

    

Know if you should go, subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Thanks for visiting! Please join my email list to get the latest updates on film, my festival travels and all my reviews.

CONTACT

Bourbonnais, Illinois
www.reelhonestreviews.com

site design by Matt K. © All rights belong to Reel Honest Reviews / Pamela Powell