Posts in Weekly VOD

‘Strad Style’ a docu-thriller now available on VOD

November 18th, 2017 Posted by Review, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “‘Strad Style’ a docu-thriller now available on VOD”

Is there such a film genre as “docu-thriller?” If not, there should be as “Strad Style” is exactly that as it pairs an unlikely (dare I say) artisan with a world-renowned violinist, Razvan Stoica, who has requested a replication of a Del Gesù violin. The Stradivarius and Del Gesù violins are considered the most rare and best in the world and were produced in Cremona, Italy in the 1700’s.  Daniel Houck has accepted the job to duplicate this fine instrument, but there are a few glitches in this commitment.  He is a financially strapped young man, lacking education, no formal training in making violins, and “living in the middle of the country in the middle of a corn field,” aka Ohio, and is using a poster of the violin as his guide as he has never seen a Del Gesù.  Given Daniel’s circumstances, it’s a race against time as he finds himself committed to delivering this violin in person in Amsterdam for Stoica’s solo performance.

Filmmaker Stefan Avalos captures the day-to-day living of Houck whose candid demeanor is at once disarming, but also concerning as he seems to lack the means by which to survive let alone create a masterpiece of an instrument. Houck is disheveled, unorganized, and lives in a huge and perhaps at one time, a grand old home. With every step he takes, he is living dangerously as evidenced by the collapsing staircase and the clutter surrounding him. He has no heat and with his bipolar disorder, he appears to lack motivation and discipline. Houck is the exact opposite of what you would think a man who makes precision instruments would be like.

Houck’s progress and lack thereof is shared with Stoica as they talk about deadline, and somehow Houck is giving him reassurances of near completion. Stoica is completely unaware of what is actually happening. As the clock tick, tick, ticks, Houck seems to hit several bumps in the road to completion, many of which he admits, are of his own making. He does feel the pressure as he applies for his first passport, readying to travel abroad, but the level of anxiety isn’t close to what I felt just watching him stumble during the making of this violin. Avalos strings you along, rooting for this untrained journeyman all the while dreading what the possible pitfalls and grand finale may be. It’s an edge of your seat, nail-biter until the bitter end.

“Strad Style” is no ordinary documentary as the subject and narrative line have an unknown ending. All is riding on the outcome and Avalos creates great tension and suspense while connecting you to the main character. Editing this film must have been a painstaking process, but the final film is of extraordinary calibre. It’s a thrilling ride in the life of a seemingly ordinary man.

“Strad Style” had its premiere at the 2017  Slamdance Film Festival  and is now on Amazon, iTunes, VUDU and Google Play. For more information, check out the film’s website: www.stradstyle.com.

I had the pleasure of connecting with Stoica and briefly talked with him about the film experience. I have not included it in this review as this would spoil the ending.

To read the interview, please go to

Razvan Stoica shares his thoughts about “Strad Style”

Check out more informaiton about Houck go to houckfineviolins.com.

"Girl Flu" Finds boundless comedy and heart in this young girl’s coming of age movie

November 3rd, 2017 Posted by Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “"Girl Flu" Finds boundless comedy and heart in this young girl’s coming of age movie”

 

Dorie Barton makes her writing and directorial debut with “Girl Flu,” a hilarious yet wonderfully accurate look at a young girl as she begins the process of becoming a woman.  Yep, she gets her period.  Precocious 12-year old Bird (Jade Pettyjohn) and her mother, recent transplants from “The Valley” now live with Grandma on the other side of town.  Adjusting to her new school and environment is one of the many challenges for Bird.   Jenny (Katee Sackhoff), Bird’s mom, isn’t going to win the coveted Mother of the Year Award—not by a long shot.  In fact, it’s frequently Bird who is more  mature than Mom!  Jenny is a self-centered, pot-smoking yet loving mother who believes the world revolves around her.  Jenny’s boyfriend, Arlo (Jeremy Sisto), gives some stability to this chaotic family,  but when Bird, a bit of a geeky outcast at school, gets bullied and then humiliated as she (wearing white pants) gets her first period, an explosion of emotions occur, warranting both mother and daughter to begin growing up.

“Girl Flu” is a no holds barred look into what every  mother and daughter have experienced on some level.  And you brothers/fathers/husbands have gone through it as well just by your mere presence in the background.  Now we have a film that lays it all out there to laugh and empathize with all parties involved.  While some of the situations are obviously over-the-top, it does so in a way to call attention to the situation and make you laugh.  Pettyjohn is extraordinary in her performance, giving truth and comedy to this point in a girl’s life.  This wonderfully developed character not only has to figure out her own life, but also find a way to help her mother all the while attempting to wrangle her first crush feelings.  Oh, to go back to that time in your life…would be a curse!

Barton hones in on this time “period” perfectly with succinct writing and precision direction of this talented cast.  The dialogue she creates is fast-paced, smart, and unbelievably witty as well as relatable.  Every word out of Bird’s mouth has either been said or at least thought by every  female out there!  And if you’re a mom with a daughter who has already gone through this, it’ll be even more hilarious!  Barton is bold with a

 topic matter that I don’t think has been broached in such an incredibly inventive way before.  

Jenny and her best friends seem to provide her with all the aspects of motherhood, but even Jenny’s friends see that it’s time for her to step up to the plate.  With pressure from Arlo, Jenny has hit a wall and having a hormonal teen on her hands is more than she can handle.  Her responses are wildly strange (and hilarious) as she throws a coming of age party and attempts to show her how to insert a tampon.  It’s a journey for all involved as not only do Jenny and Bird grow up, but the film addresses love, peer pressure, identity, confidence and bullying as well as first love.  “Girl Flu” is a simply charming, sweet, honest and comedic look at what happens to us all, shown with vivid imagery.

“Girl Flu” is a rite of passage that gets it right!  It’s a film for every mother and daughter to see and if you guys want to get a glimpse of what we go through, check it out!  You’ll be enlightened and wonderfully entertained.  Now available on Video on Demand.

"Swing Away" Now Available on VOD

October 18th, 2017 Posted by Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “"Swing Away" Now Available on VOD”

Zoe Papadopoulos (Shannon Elizabeth) has a major meltdown on the women’s golf circuit resulting in a suspension.  Wrestling with her inner demons, she attempts to find comfort and solace in going back to her roots, grandparents, and familiar surroundings in Greece.  What she finds is much more beneficial than comfort—she finds strength and determination as she takes on an American developer (John O’Hurley).

Zoe is obviously struggling after burying her putter in the green on national television.  Her meltdown has gone viral and there’s no escaping it, not even half way across the world in an idyllic little town in Greece.  Unsure as to how to come back from this extraordinarily embarrassing and totally unprofessional situation, Zoe attempts to lose herself in Yaya and Papou’s  cooking and baking.  As she befriends a little girl who shows exceptional potential as a golfer, their relationship leads to fighting big business in an attempt to save not just the local golf course, but the identity and preservation of this quaint town.  WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

“Swing Away” is a beautiful film visually, aesthetically, and emotionally.  While it isn’t exactly unpredictable, it is a wonderfully pleasant reminder about who we are and what is truly important in life.  The story is Zoe’s story as she initially wallows in self-pity, but then with the support of her family and eventually the town, we watch her grow as a woman and as a role model in her profession.

For those of us who grew up in a small town, these unique and quirky characters are exactly what we would picture for this town.  The priest and the church are the center of everything, unless there’s a soccer match going on, and everyone knows everyone else’s business.  Progress is bound to happen, interfering with the slow pace as “Glenn” (O’Hurley) comes in with developers, completely dismissing anyone’s worth, particularly a woman and a girl.  Hmmm…does this sound familiar?  I’ll let your mind take it from here.  And yes, there’s a little love story, but it’s not overwhelming, it’s just a hint of one.

It’s a Davida vs. Goliath story complete with a challenge instead of a sling shot, but aim in most certainly necessary.  Elizabeth gives a wonderful performance as Zoe who is not only beautiful, but insightful, caring, and smart.  Her relationship with her grandparents is sweet, particularly with Yaya and Papou as they interact and react differently to Zoe.  Her backstory acquaints us better to Zoe, allowing us to not only understand her better, but to also connect with her.  Viktoria Miller  who plays Stella, the golf prodigy, is equally adorable, but it is the main character’s backstories that give the film more layers of interest.

Many of the characters are a bit exaggerated, but that’s what makes this film fun.  No one but O’Hurley could better portray the big-time American developer who is self-serving, pompous, and egotistical, giving the film the humor it needs and the perfect “bad guy” to root against.

The cinematography captures the essence of this gorgeous seaside town in Greece, beckoning the viewer to visit.  The beauty of the colorful homes along narrow cobblestone streets and the presentation of homemade bread and savory pastries will make your mouth water as you crave a taste of Greece.  Zoe and Stella could be golfers based on the editing of shots and swings.  Who knows?  Maybe they truly are, that’s how spot-on perfect the editing is.

“Swing Away” is an entertaining film that will make you laugh aloud and bring a smile to your face.  Beneath the surface, however, you are reminded of how important a sense of community truly is and preservation of a quality of life.  Progress doesn’t always mean money. “Swing Away” isn’t just about golf…it’s just the vehicle to drive us to the fairway and get that hole in one.  For more information about seeing this film on VOD, go to swingawaymovie.com

"Frank vs. God" Takes legal action against the Almighty

July 19th, 2017 Posted by Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “"Frank vs. God" Takes legal action against the Almighty”

 

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Henry Ian Cusick, previously known for his character in the hit television series ‘Lost,’ and now ‘The 100’ has a new-found passion for independent film. One of several completed indie films, “Frank vs. God” is now available to see on all digital platforms and DVD. As Frank’s (Cusick) home is destroyed by a tornado, the widower tries to use his insurance to recoup his damages only to find out that “acts of God” are not covered.  The semi-retired lawyer, still in the throws of grief, lashes out against the Almighty, coming out of retirement and using his unique legal prowess to sue Him for damages.  Cusick, the Peruvian-born Scottish actor, sat down to talk with me about this film, family, and all things entertainment.

Watch the trailer here
IMG_0757Cusick’s unique upbringing included moving around the continent which he feels has given him a sense of commonality among all—something he hopes his children will have as well. He shared, “I think it’s pretty good to move kids around at an early age. They get a sense of travel. They get a sense of the world, that it’s not that big and that we are pretty much all the same.” He credits his lack of a “xenophobic attitude” to his childhood experiences and loves learning new things, particularly about different cultures and their customs.
This unique background doesn’t stop with his upbringing as he is a theatrically trained actor giving him, from this critic’s perspective, an leg up on others in his field. He admits that while “…most actors in the UK start off in theater, that’s our bread and butter…” the pay is significantly better in television and film. “You could do one day of TV [which] would be the equivalent of three weeks work in the theater.” Like his experiences as a child, he cherishes his dramatic training which helped him become more well-rounded as an actor. “I learned things that I wasn’t really interested in like poetry and a lot of classical stuff.   [There are] a lot of things I still use today which seems very obvious, but when I see young actors…they do classes and then they’ll get a job on a TV show. I just don’t feel that’s a full training.” However, Cusick certainly sees there is more than one path to lead to a goal, but, he adds, “…for the longevity of the profession, I would get good training in theater to fall back on.”
IMG_0758So how does a classically trained theatrical actor get involved with independent film? The answer, Stephen Lang. Accepting a lead role in “the bizarre” indie film “The Girl on the Train,” Cusick saw Lang’s name attached to it. He chuckled and said, “Stephen Lang’s in it, it must be something.  [Lang] said, ‘You know what? I just do stuff because I’m an actor. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.’” Cusick had a new perspective on taking a chance on films. “It’s not about waiting for the big bucks or waiting for the right role. It’s fun. It’s what we do. And you just don’t know who you’ll meet. He (Lang) opened my eyes to indie films and said take a chance.”
IMG_0753Taking a chance on an independent film can be worth the gamble as it is in his newest release, “Frank vs. God,” but it’s been a long time in coming to the public. After reading the script from his manager who happened to be friends with writer and director Stewart Schill, Cusick had about a week to prepare for this verbally heavy film. Much of the courtroom scenes depended on Cusick reciting chunks of verse, more reminiscent of a legal (and creatively entertaining) soliloquy. He’s had plenty of experience in this type of recitation, and gave credit to his assistant who ran lines over and over and over again. Great writing certainly helps and Schill’s script is at once engagingly eloquent. Cusick’s favorite scenes were in the courtroom because, as he was suing God for tornado damages to his home, every religion was represented. “Everyone had a valid point,” to support their religion, but as Cusick was brought up Catholic, it was arguing with the Bishop that most intrigued him. Regarding Catholicism, Cusick said, “…when I hear the good that it does, but [then] I hear the arguments of the whole taxation and how much money the Catholic Church has and can’t tell us.” Schill “pokes fun” at all of the religions, but Cusick emphatically added, “I think the one thing that comes through with this film is whatever the religion, it doesn’t really matter. It’s all about love. Treating everyone with respect. Love one another. That’s the ultimate message that comes out of the film.”

IMG_0759Waiting for the release of “Frank vs. God” has been a long time in coming, much like Cusick’s other indie projects such as “Rememory” which premiered at Sundance 2017 and “Chimera” which even he hasn’t seen the final product. Working and waiting, Cusick also finds time to delve into positive impact projects like Jambios. It’s somewhat related to his “Rememory” project in that it taps into sharing memories with loved ones, friends, and acquaintances. This newly released company encourages users to set up an account and share their stories. From “myjambio” to ourjambio,” you can share life’s stories with anyone you choose. Cusick shared that one woman “…found out she was dying and she’s leaving stories for her children which is so moving, so beautiful.” Creating books for birthdays, weddings, and other special occasions are yet other aspects of this site.
Cusick is obviously that well-rounded actor with his myriad number and types of projects in which he is involved. Portraying the lead role of David Frank in “Frank vs. God” truly captures the eloquence and articulate capabilities of this theatrically trained actor.  The bonus is that his real life persona is simply positive and inspiring.
See “Frank vs. God” on digital platforms (VOD) and DVD now.  For more informaiton about this film, go to Www.frankvsgod.com

For more information about Jambios, go to Jambios.com

 

"Boiling the Frog" Will make you jump to action; a free web series starring Senator Al Franken

July 12th, 2017 Posted by News, Review, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “"Boiling the Frog" Will make you jump to action; a free web series starring Senator Al Franken”

Climate change.  Some people haven’t woken up to smell the coffee—that’s grown in Brazil where the rainforest is being depleted at a rate of upwards of 80,000 acres per day (‘Scientific American’).  And with today’s United States government leaders not just denying climate change, but taking action to accelerate it, what can we do?  It’s a depressing and sometimes emotionally crushing thought, but former-satirist and current Minnesota Senator Al Franken finds a way to reach audiences, educate them, and yes, even find humor in what most of us consider a devastating situation.

Franken has joined forces with Funny Or Die and ‘Years of Living Dangerously’ to give us (are you ready for the title?) Boiling the Frog.  Executive Producer David Gelber explained the title:  “If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it’ll jump right out. But if you put a frog in a pot of cold water, place it on a stove and slowly start heating it up, it turns out the frog will stay in the pot and let itself get boiled.”  He continued, “We’re living in a time where politicians are more like the frog in the heating pot.  Despite climate change staring them right in the face, they’re not taking life-saving action.”  While I’d rather not observe that whole frog-pot experiment, the short web series is more captivating and entertaining and doesn’t harm a soul.  “Boiling the Frog” communicates relevant issues discussed between Franken and David Letterman.  Both of these men with their roots in comedy hope to find a way to make the world a better place.  And each with young children or grandchildren feel a sense of responsibility to them to make positive changes.

Franken, as Letterman put it, is more of a climate change optimist and given Franken’s position in government and his recognizable face and name, that’s a good thing.  As the two sit down for 6 short segments, their dry sense of humor underscores the seriousness of the consequences of taking no action or remaining ignorant.  From coal mine jobs and alternative energy technology to the Koch brothers identity and even Rush Limbaugh as topics, the two create an engaging series that just might open your eyes a bit while you chuckle.  At least one “take-away message” comes in each episode such as “Call your senator or congressman.”  Believe it or not, that really does matter!  Each episode is just a few minutes in length so it’s a short time investment that just might give you a high return in insight.

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To watch the first episode, go to  FUNNY OR DIE

For information about how deforestation affects climate change, go to climate.org

"The Exception" A romantic thriller set amidst WWII

June 30th, 2017 Posted by Review, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “"The Exception" A romantic thriller set amidst WWII”

 

 

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The stories from WWII are limitless and screenwriter Simon Burke brings Alan Judd’s novel “The Kaiser’s Last Kiss” to life in “The Exception,” starring Lily James, Jai Courtney, and Christopher Plummer.  As Capt. Stefan Brandt (Courtney), a young and rebellious German soldier, is assigned to protect Kaiser Wilhelm (Plummer),  he meets and falls in love with a woman who may be a Dutch spy.  It’s a classic love story which pits a man’s love for a woman against his loyalty to his country.  His decisions are never easy, keeping you on the edge of your seat awaiting the story’s end.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

“The Exception” brings us into the world of war seen from a different perspective, giving humanity and insight to characters previously only known in clear black and white viewpoints.  While the story is fictional, the realistic components are beautifully portrayed in both the situations and real characters.  The unexpected love story between Brandt and Mieke (James) creates an unorthodox encounter in the beginning.  As the connection intensifies, the two expose themselves for who they really are, to not only one another, but also to Wilhelm.  Trust and loyalty are in opposition and only then do we really understand these complexly beautiful characters.

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Plummer, although beingexception2 type-cast in his later years, is exquisite in this role.  Giving a deeply thoughtful performance, we understand his character’s background and grow to truly care about “Wilhelm.”  He’s filled with regrets, longs for more, yet understand his part in life.  His interaction with “Meika” is genuine and sweet, yet cautious.  Courtney’s character is initially unlikeable, but he allows  “Brandt” to grow, shedding the layers to reveal a conflicted yet caring young man.  James shines in her role creating a strong yet shattered woman who fears for her life and seeks revenge.  Eddie Marsan has a small, yet vital role as the visiting “Heinrich Himmler” and it is his chilling and menacing performance that gives greater credibility to the story.

Directed by David Leveaux, “The Exception” skillfully weaves together truth and fiction to give us a gripping love story filled with mystery and intrigue.  Emotional components within these aspects provide the background stories that complete each character, allowing us to know who they truly are.   It’s a finely tuned romantic thriller that transports you back in time through cinematic genius, a rich story, and stellar performances.

You can see “The Exception” on VOD (Video On Demand) on Amazon.  Go to Amazon

LIMBO: A surreal view of past and future

June 27th, 2017 Posted by Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “LIMBO: A surreal view of past and future”

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LIMBO

Written by:  Will Blank and Richard Kaponas

Directed by Will Blank

Starring Raul Castillo and Sam Elliott (voice)

“Limbo,” co-written by Will Blank and Richard Kaponas and directed by Blank, is based on the comic  by Marian Churchland. The story  delves deeply into one man’s innermost feelings of regret and what’s truly important to him.  Blank sets his story in the dry, hot, and desolate desert where a young man has stopped his car to hurl a phone blinking with a text message not yet opened at a Renaissance painting on a billboard.  The irony of where the phone will remain for eternity is not lost.  The man wanders, leSHORT-FILM-LIMBO-2016-Will-Blank-Richard-Kaponas-5aving his car and his phone, and recollects his recent past and the decisions leading to this regrettable journey.  When he stumbles upon a dying dog who will grant him a single wish, only then does he realize what is truly important in life.

“Limbo” is a type of film that takes a while to sink in as it is filled with so much more meaning than initially meets the eye.  Blank’s attention to detail is extraordinary—visually and auditorily—to create an environment that completely envelops you.  We hear the wind whistling, the fly buzzing, the sizzling of the hot pan, aLimbo-e1497273975274nd the labored breathing of a distressed dog.  The sounds are frequently the primary focus, accentuating his experiences.  Blank balances this cinematically as he captures the desolate, lonely, and unwelcoming desert with the utmost skill.

“Limbo” is rather unusual as it uses a talking dog, voiced by the unmistakable deep and gravely voice of Sam Elliott.  It is this voice that immediately gives depth and credibility to this strange and meaningful character.  Raul Castillo’s understated performance as the man captures the myriad number of emotions in a short time period.   With little dialogue and his thoughts conveyed through voice-overs, Castillo finds just the right pace.

Blank’s ability to create such power and meaning in an 8-minute film is exceptional.  He portrays the beauty in life through the recreation of death and desolation, the backdrop of the story.  Conceptually and cinematically, “Limbo” is a film to watch several times, paying close attention to every detail Blank has so painstakingly painted for us.  It’s an ironic tale that reminds us of what we should cherish in life.

To watch this film go to LIMBO on Vimeo.

 

VEGAS BABY’s creator, Amanda Micheli, lends personal insight to the high stakes gamble of In Vitro Fertilization

June 20th, 2017 Posted by Interviews, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “VEGAS BABY’s creator, Amanda Micheli, lends personal insight to the high stakes gamble of In Vitro Fertilization”

 

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The stakes are high when it comes to the inability to have children and Amanda Micheli, Academy Awarding documentarian, explores the personal and financial toll it takes on a couple as they vie to win a chance at a round of IVF (In Vitro Fertilization).  It’s an emotionally raw journey as couples bare their souls and share personal stories of the need to complete their family…no matter the cost.

Watch the trailer here

micheli_colorheadshot-300x278Micheli spoke with me about her background and personal association with the project.  Her unique insight allows the film to unfold in an unbiased and informative way while still unveiling the emotional layers just under the surface.

Reel Honest Reviews (RHR):  Tell me how you first became interested in filmmaking.

Amanda Micheli (AM):  I started out in still photography.  In high school, I was the photo editor of my high school newspaper.  That’s where I cut my teeth and learned to navigate the somewhat terrifying world of high school .  But it was great because I was able to be the photojournalist and cut though a lot of cross sections of that culture.  I just really felt comfortable with a camera.  It gave me license and a purpose.

RHR:  You went to Harvard for film studies—I don’t usually associate Harvard with filmmakers.

AM:  I’ve always loved movies and have had that desire to lean that direction, but I wasn’t sure what it meant.  I never would have expected to go to Harvard for film, for undergrad.  It’s not a department that gets a lot of notoriety.  Most of the professors focus on documentary work. It’s a hidden jewel, a well-supported program that’s not really known and you’re able to make a movie as your undergraduate thesis.  So I dove in and made an hour long documentary as my undergrad thesis called “Just for the Ride.”

RHR:  Your film went on to win a Student Oscar, travel film festivals, and have distribution on PBS!

AM:  I don’t think I realized at the time how amazing that was!  I thought that was what happened when you made a film.  My sophomore effort was a lot harder when I woke up to the reality of what it costs to make a movie in the real world and how hard it is to get distribution.

RHR:  What drew you to the topic for your film “Vegas Baby?”

AM:  Unfortunately, I came to the subject matter through my own personal experience. My husband and I have been struggling with our own infertility story for about 5 years now.  When we first started [trying], I waited until later in life…we were both older when we got married and I would say woefully ignorant about our fertility. Then, unfortuantely, once we got a diagnosis that my husband had a low sperm count and nobody knew why,  everybody said we don’t have time to figure out why you just have to get moving because Amanda’s getting up there.  Then we found out that after our first failed IVF that my husband had testicular cancer so that kind of compounded everything for obvious reasons and derailed us because we were focused on health and his mortality…and that just intenisfied the experience to the “n”th degree.

We spent our savings on a round of IVF.  We were told that that was the only way we could have a biological child.  We wanted to give it a shot. We never thought we would be in that position. I think we had a lot of stereotypes and judgments around IVF ourselves.  We’re not THOSE kind of people.  I think when we stared trying, we were like if it works it works, and if it doesnt it doesn’t… all of sudden you have to get real and [think] what would I be willing to do to make this happen.  When it didn’t work and we were faced with the expense— over $20,000, getting our hopes up, and feeling invested and doing something outside our comfort zone, and just realizing that I was really uneducated about the odds of success [and] the costs— the emotional physical and financial cost of reproductive medicine.  As a filmmaker, I felt compelled to do something with that experience. It was actually when I was researching funding options for our second round of IVF … I came across an article in the New York Times about these clinics that were having raffles and contests for people who couldn’t afford treatment.  My first reaction was, this is insanity.  But when I sat and thought about it and what I had been through, I felt for these people and I felt like there was something to it.  If there was this many people who were willing to bare their souls on the internet for the hope, for the shred of a hope, to have a child, it felt like it was speaking something, it was like a zeitgeist.

RHR:  Your film addresses many issues about IVF.  What do you hope this film will accomplish?

AM:  I think for me there’s hope in starting the conversation around it and raising awareness about it and also education.  Hopefully the millenial generation is already more educated than I was.  I think I was specifically a post-feminist generation where my mom didn’t want me to feel pressured about having a family.  She wanted me to feel independent and free to pursue my dreams.   Even for people with medical diagnoses that aren’t age related, we have a lot to learn about this. Also just to raise awareness about the odds and the cost of what people are getting into…you have to go in with your eyes wide open and be your own advocate. And also… get really good mental health support.  That’s one of the things I really rallied about with the film is this is a medical problem, but it’s also a social problem and it’s also really a psychological problem.  It’s something that needs counseling to make an informed decision around and I don’t think that IVF doctors are necessarily the best person to advise you…

RHR:  Your film touches on many different adjacent topics using  a unique style.

AM:  There are so many layers to it and I hope that my film brings up questions that the audience can continue to think about and discuss…This isn’t pure “cinema verite,” but it certainly has an element to it…you’re observing as it’s unfolding.  You don’t have the filmmaker speaking, [but] you run the risk that people think you’re not being critical enough…It’s just a different approach where you’re asking the audience to think critically based on what you’re putting in front of them.

RHR:  The style also allows you to remain impartial, balanced.  Was that difficult to do given how personal of a topic this is to you?

AM:  It wasn’t hard to have a balanced point of view.  To me, that was critical to reaching our audience in the most authentic way.  People need to be educated, but it’s not for me to say how someone should choose this path or that path to build a family….[This] film uses the provocative premise of the contest as a way to make people look at the deeper issues beyond the topic.  What are the human desires and emotions that lead people to go to the lengths and move beyond the black and white, the good guy and the bad guy, who do we blame. I don’t think the world is that simple.

RHR:  Speaking of simple, it must not have been easy to gain access to the Dr. Sher’s infertility clinic to film.  Was it?

AM:  I made the pone call and I thought for sure they would say no, especially because the New York Times article was very critical.  They just said, ‘Sure.  Come on down.’  I was flabbergasted.  I would never usually do this, but I said, ‘You’re not concerned about getting negative press?  I want to be clear that you know that I’m going to have full control over this film.’  And they said they had nothing to hide.  I thought they were very courageous.  I really credit them…And I think I really lucked out that they were willing to take that risk to let me in.  I can tell you we tried to film in a lot of other clinics…and we didn’t have that success at any other location.

RHR:  With your personal connection, did you have difficulty in becoming attached to the subjects of the film?

AM:  It’s always an issue when you’re making a film…and I think in this case, even though we had similar experiences, we had pretty different backgrounds.  I don’t think that means being detached or aloof, but for me, the primary thing was making the film and trying, of course, to see their experience as empathetically as I could, but also with the eye of an observer…

RHR:  What surprised you most about making this film?

AM:  It’s the toll this can take on a marriage…it’s already hard enough to have a relationship and when you’re having something that’s affecting your most intimate [part] with your partner, your self esteem, your confidence, your sexuality, it’s incredibly layered and complicated what that can do to a relationship.

RHR:  What have you learned from making this film that you hope others will as well?

AM:  I just don’t want anyone to take their fertility for granted nor do I want people to quickly pass judgment on people…I hope the film will open people’s eyes to seeing [infertility] in a slightly different way.

FOR MORE INFORMATION GO TO vegasbabyfilm.com

“Vegas Baby” is now available on iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, and Vudu.  On June 27th, see it on PBS World Channel and on Netflix,  July 4.

 

 

 

 

 

Parks and Rec star Jim O’Heir on new film ‘Middle Man’

June 10th, 2017 Posted by Interviews, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “Parks and Rec star Jim O’Heir on new film ‘Middle Man’”

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Jim O’Heir, the lovable loser from the hit television series “Parks and Recreation,” takes on a dramatically different role as Lenny Freeman in Ned Crowley’s dark, dark comedy “Middle Man.” It’s set to open at the AMC River East in Chicago this weekend.

 

Lenny (played by O’Heir) is a throwback to a bygone era. He is a 50-year-old accountant who lived at home with his mother until her death. Inheriting a mound of debt and her antique ’53 Oldsmobile, Lenny pursues his dream of being a stand-up comic. The problem? He is not funny. Traveling to Las Vegas to compete on the television show “Stand-Up Stand-Off,” Lenny befriends hitchhiker Hitch (Andrew J. West) and finds himself caught up in a killing spree.

 

It’s a homage to the comic greats of the past.

 

I had the pleasure of sitting down for a casual conversation with O’Heir near Loyola University, his alma mater. At Bar 63 where we met, he couldn’t make it 3 feet without being recognized, but he readily stopped to take selfies with patrons.

To read the entire interview in the June 10, 2017 edition of The Daily Journal, go here

"The Lovers" Is an exceptional and unexpected tale of marriage and love

May 12th, 2017 Posted by Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “"The Lovers" Is an exceptional and unexpected tale of marriage and love”

The Lovers

What’s more powerful, the written or the spoken word?  In the case of “The Lovers,” the answer is neither.  It’s the lack of communication that is as deadly as a tightening noose around the neck.  Azazel Jacobs writes and directs the emotionally loaded film “The Lovers” starring Tracy Letts and Debra Winger as a couple nearing the end of their marriage.  Michael (Letts) and Mary (Winger), both fully involved in affairs, are ready to call it quits, but inexplicably, a small spark is ignited between the two, putting into question their impending marital demise.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

the-lovers-aiden-gillen-debra-wingerMichael and Lucy (Melora Walters) are in a dramatic affair as we witness in the opening scene.  This is paralleled in the next scene as we meet Mary and Robert (Aiden Gillen) in an equally emotionally evocative situation.  And then we see the awkwardly uncomfortable interaction between this married couple.  The inability to communicate that comes after years and years of comfort and complacency; the distance that is created after years of raising a child and going in two different directions; and the point of apparent “no return” at which many 50-somethings end up is portrayed in each and every scene with precision in “The Lovers.”

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As pressure to leave from both Mary and Michael’s lovers builds, each of them places a date on telling their spouse that it’s over.  Their son, Joel, and his girlfriend are visiting and this seems an appropriate point at which to tell one another.  How this unfolds is nothing like what was planned, revealing the innermost feelings of loss, fear of change, and remorse for dying and dead hopes and dreams.

Simply put, “The Lovers” is remarkably daring and poignant for the Baby Boomer generation.  Addressing a situation that occurs in many marriages in such a relevant and timely manner creates an updated version of any relationship film.  We find these characters looking back at the paved and bumpy road many miles behind them, unable to see where the potholes and forks began. And Michael and Mary’s life couldn’t be any more routine, but the excitement of their affairs seem to give them that spark they need to live, laying the path of hope ahead of each of them.  However, as they rekindle their own spark, the guilt of their situations as well as the love that was buried is now revealed.  It’s complicated—just like real life.

This is a visual and visceral film, using emotional building blocks augmented by orchestral creations to give extraordinary depth to each and every scene.  It feels much like a live theater play as we discover who these two main characters are and how they have come to this state.  While the dialogue is sparse, it is the action and reaction that is more powerful than any spoken word could possibly be.  And we become a part of what might be the final act in the marriage of Mary and Michael.

Letts, a stage actor who has proven himself to be a great talent no matter the medium, does not disappoint.  He easily portrays the typical 50-something year old husband and father who is disengaged in all things pertaining to family.  His regrets he wears on his sleeve.  His lack of inspiration is palpable.  And his want to feel alive “without the drama” is immediately  relatable.  Winger shines in her role, and again, with very little dialogue, we are able to completely understand her every thought and feeling.  She’s dismayed with life; she’s pulled in several directions; and she is also lonely and needs more in her life.  The two actors are always on the same page, their familiarity as a long-married couple believable, and their chemistry, when needed, is just as real.

Aiden Gillen’s “Robert” and Melora Walters’ “Lucy” are Mary and Michael’s lovers, respectively.  Their characters are not as well developed, but this isn’t really needed as it’s Mary and Michael’s story.  Robert and Lucy are just the conduits to conduct the story’s electricity through to the very surprising and unexpected end.

“The Lovers” is a rather complex story about a very typical situation in today’s marital society.  Extraordinary performances from Letts and Winger carry the film, engaging the viewer completely.  Its ironic humor blending seamlessly with realistic situations elevates this film to a level of filmmaking that we just don’t see enough of.  In other words, it’s not your typical Hollywood film…and that’s a good thing.

4 Stars

 

"The Secret Life of Muslims" Promises (and delivers) entertainment, humor, and empathy By Pamela Powell

December 19th, 2016 Posted by News, Review, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “"The Secret Life of Muslims" Promises (and delivers) entertainment, humor, and empathy By Pamela Powell”

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Muslim Girl founder Amani Al-Khatahtbeh.

In the aftermath of one of the racially divided and prejudicial presidential races in U.S. history, the fear of even greater harm and prejudice toward Muslims is also unprecedented.  To counteract this “Islamophobia,” Joshua Seftel brings us “The Secret Life of Muslims.” This new “digital series that uses humor and empathy to confront Islamophobia” actually does much more than that.  It educates and entertains while it awakens you to see how truly silly prejudices are.  Yes, this is about the Muslim religion (it is a religion, people), but the concept can be applied to any religion and any group of people to whom there are negative stereotypes.  “The Secret Life of Muslims” is a brilliant concept that, in under 5 minutes, could change your perspective and views.  I told you it was brilliant!

 

Each week through February, 2017, this series will launch a new episode available on a variety of on-line digital platforms.  This innovative distribution model allows viewers to see or listen to  these short stories on Vox, The USA TODAY Network, CBS Sunday Morning, and PRI’s THE WORLD.   Seftel interviews a wide range of people living in the United States who are Muslim.  From comedian Ahmed Ahmed who will have you laughing out loud (Watch his episode here) to female journalist Dena Takruri who will bring to you a keener insight to the difficulties in reporting the news (Watch her episode here), and many other notable public figures such as NYPD Muslim Chaplain Khalid Latif (Watch his episode here) and actor Iqbal Theba, these Muslims who look, talk, and act just like everyone else, tell you their story.  Watch, listen, (laugh) and learn.

Check out the first episode here

Seftel explains that, “After such a divisive election, we need to come together to start telling stories that add truth and nuance to what was stoked on the campaign trail.”  Seftel knows about prejudice as he recalls facing “… anti-Semitism growing up Jewish in Upstate New York and that stayed with me.”  With the anti-Muslim discrimination that is occurring here in the U.S., it is his hope is to create an understanding about the religion and the people.  He adds, “…so if we can help create understanding in some small way, that would be a great step.”

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With 1.7 billion Muslims in the world, 3.3 million of them living in the United States, this series will definitely create understanding as well as correct misconceptions surrounding the Muslim religion.  Thanks to Seftel and the key support from the Ford Foundation/Just Films, Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, The New York Community Trust, Pillars Fund, and many more, this uniquely informative and creative concept is free to everyone to see.  Here’s the link to view all of the episodes: www.secretlifeofmuslims.com

"Stevie D" A light-hearted mobster film By Pamela Powell

December 15th, 2016 Posted by Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “"Stevie D" A light-hearted mobster film By Pamela Powell”

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STEVIE D

Written and directed by Chris Cordone

Starring:  Chris Cordone, Torrey DeVitto, Kevin Chapman, John Aprea, and Hal Linden

Stevie DiMarco (Chris Cordone), aka Stevie D, is the arrogant, obnoxious, misogynistic son of a well-connected L.A. construction magnate.  His heavy drinking ways get him into trouble when he accidentally kills a crime boss’s son.  Revenge by means of retaliation is the only payment that can settle the score.   Stevie D is the prime target and his father, Angelo (John Aprea), hires a look-alike actor to play his son’s role, setting him up to unknowingly take the hit while the real Stevie D goes into hiding.  As Michael Rose (Chris Cordone), the actor, successfully fills in, the consequences are not what everyone expected.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Immediately, we do not like Stevie D.  He’s crass and self-serving—a spoiled rotten adult brat.  After the accidental murder of the son of a mob boss, Angelo and Lenny (Kevin Chapman), his right hand man, stumble upon an actor in a commercial who is Stevie D’s doppelgänger.   This well-meaning, but broke actor is convinced to play tsteviehe role of Stevie D and surprises everyone with his kindness, generosity, and overall goodness.  The relationships benefit everyone, including Lenny who wants to be an actor, taking a few pointers from Rose.  A budding romance blossoms between Angelo’s lawyer’s daughter and Rose, and the real Stevie D could easily be forgotten if it weren’t for the two bumbling hit men sent to snuff out this fine young man’s life.  It’s a cat and mouse game filled with humorous situations, serendipity, and a few miscommunications along the way.

“Stevie D” is a wonderfully entertaining film that connects you to the exaggerated characters we meet.  Each one of them has an alternative personality that we find endearing—even the hit men and their love of fine dining.  With the exception of Nick the crime boss and the real Stevie D, every character has heart and we thoroughly enjoy getting to know them.  Lenny is a favorite character, a hard-nosed  mobster who melts as he gets to know Rose,  wanting nothing more than to break into show biz.  And the romance between Daria (DeVitto) and Rose gives the story-line just the right touch to balance the cat and mouse game.

chapman The plot is simple, but complex situations create the fun twists and turns in the story.  Cordone does an extraordinary job not only writing and directing this film, but also taking on two roles as Rose and Stevie D.   His adept skill at portraying two very different characters is equally remarkable as, initially,  I really thought they were two different people.  Chapman nails his role as Lenny and brings a level of lovability to the character.  Phil Idrissi and Darren Capozzi are the comic relief with their insatiable appetites and unexpected work ethics and priorities.  And it’s always a pleasure to see Hal Linden in any role as he portrays the old-time lovable talent agent Max Levine.  The entire cast clicks as we watch this story of mistaken identity unfold.screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-9-54-38-am

“Stevie D” creates a light-hearted mobster film complete with a love story that is engaging and just down-right fun to watch.  The quick pace and interesting characters, although a bit over-the-top, make it that much more endearing.  “Stevie D” is now available on VOD via iTunes, Vudu, Amazon and other digital platforms.

 

3 Stars out of 4

"I Am Bolt" Strikes the world by Pamela Powell

November 20th, 2016 Posted by Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “"I Am Bolt" Strikes the world by Pamela Powell”

 

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The world has been struck by lightning…his name is Usain Bolt.  Jamaican-born sprinter Usain Bolt is considered the fastest human ever timed.  He earned 9 gold medals and holds world records in the 100 M and 200 M events as well as the 4 x 100 relay.  No one has ever held these records simultaneously.  I Am Bolt” uncovers how this great athlete accomplished what no other sprinter will most likely ever do again.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

“I Am Bolt” takes us on a journey behind the scenes of training, competing, and living the life of the  world’s greatest athlete and sprinter.  If you thought you knew this man, think again.  “I Am Bolt” brings us to a greater understanding of who he really is and what makes him tick.  It’s a positively inspiring message for not just young athletes, but for everyone.

The documentary creates an unusual blend of filming as we hear from those closest to Bolt;  his best friend and manager, his coach, his teammates, and his parents.  We get a glimpse into his past through photos, footage, and interviews.  Bolt, from humble beginnings or as Ziggy Marley describes him, “…poor in terms of economics, but was rich with talents, with life, rich with substance…” finds dedication and perseverance to be the tools to continually reach his goals.   Thrusting forward, we are brought back to all the major competitions in Bolt’s life as well as his injuries that seemed to plague him throughout his career.  Bolt’s final performance at the 2016 Rio Olympics had everyone on edge as this would be his last appearance at an Olympic games.  “Bolt openly talks about his thoughts and feelings from the age of 15, his first win and one of the most meaningful in his life, to thdsc_2887e 2016 Olympics and what still motivates him.

Bolt films a portion of this documentary himself.  With his traveling schedule and training, he talks to the camera, much the way you or I would write in a journal.  He expresses his frustrations with his injuries, but has faith in his coach and trainers to help him recover.  His competitive nature and work ethic are his driving forces for recovery and ultimately, winning.  As Bolt discusses his deepest insecurities and bold statements of confidence (rightfully so!), we can identify with this remarkable athlete.  Maybe we can’t run even a fraction as fast as he can, but deep down, he struggles with his goals and how to obtain them.  Focus, respect for his competitors as well as those around him keeps him positive.

Knowing the history of Usain Bolt and his legendary wins around the world, accomplishing what most of us will probably never see again, three Olympics with a total of nine gold medals, the film brings you back to these races to discover and feel the excitement as if we are right there on the track.  Serena Williams says it best, “You’re rooting fdsc_3597-2or you country and then you see Bolt and you’re like I’m rooting for  Bolt.”  Bolt intrinsically instills a sense of pride in what he stands for.  He is the model of honor within the sports arena.  Everyone around the world admires and is positively impacted by this great athlete.  He has accomplished even more than 9 gold medals…he has given the world a bond.

“I Am Bolt” is not just a glimpse inside Usain Bolt’s life, but also a chance to get to know, understand, and relate to this extraordinary man and what it took to get to this point in his remarkable life.  “I Am Bolt” is inspiring, uplifting, and motivational.  Usain Bolt has struck the world and that iconic stance will forever be forged in our hearts and our minds.

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If you’re in Chicago, you can see this film on Monday, November 28 at the  Landmark  Century Centre Cinema.  For a full listing of locations, go to www.iamboltfilm.com

“I Am Bolt” is available on VOD and DVD on December 6, 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

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