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“American Fiction” is THE movie of the year

January 26th, 2024 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on ““American Fiction” is THE movie of the year”

The Oscar Nominations are out and now is the best time to catch up on the Award-winning wannabes at our local theaters. Yes, you can see “Maestro,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Anatomy of a Fall,’ and “Barbie,” but the one on your list that you shouldn’t miss is “American Fiction” starring Jeffrey Wright as a frustrated literature professor and novelist, Thelonious Monk Ellis. The film garnered 5 Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Score. My bet is on both Jeffrey Wright for Lead Actor, Sterling K. Brown for Supporting Actor and a win for Best Adapted Screenplay from the book Erasure by Percival Everett. Time will tell.

Cord Jefferson co-writes the screenplay with Everett and also sits in the director’s chair as he depicts Wright’s monk flailing in the world as a second-time author and literary professor. His first book, not exactly a NYT bestseller, isn’t helping him sell his second one to any publishers as his agent Arthur (John Ortiz) not so delicately explains the situation to him. Monk is a bit of a snob, an elitist, a perfectionist who feels his literary standards are the ones every writer should adhere to. What lies ahead for Monk will be a lesson he will (and we will) never forget.

Monk becomes more frustrated after he witnesses the the likes of Sintara Golden (Issa Rae) succeeding as a novelist, capitalizing, exploiting and perpetuating the stereotypical “Black experience.” Monk is disgusted by this and somehow lands himself along side his nemesis on a panel of judges to determine the winner of the next prestigious literary award. He retaliates by writing his own Black book called My Pafology under the pseudonym Stagg R. Leigh, which is entered into this competition. Monk’s disdain devolves into utter disgust as he pushes the boundaries of the title to something a tad bit more explicit; who’s going to argue with Stagg R. Leigh, an ex-con who’s book is perched to be the next number one best seller.

We watch as Monk wrestles with secret success, continually pushing the boundaries of the ridiculousness of it all, only to find himself experiencing his own duality. Being paid for something he’s not proud of and participating in shrouded interviews for his lauded piece of work, Monk looks in the mirror and questions who he is, who he has become, yet it is those around him who unknowingly praise the works of Mr. Leigh aka Monk that disturbs him the most.

This is also a story about family as we see Monk struggling with his mom (Leslie Uggams) as she is being consumed by dementia, his sister who he admires suddenly dies, and his brother who is becoming a newer more honest version of himself. Jumping in head first to a new relationship, Monk’s secret success and his guilt intertwines with everyone in his life and every aspect of it until the beautiful and unexpected ending that will leave you speechless.

While this sounds like a laboriously difficult look at race, racism, and stereotypes, it’s not. It’s hilarious, light-hearted, yet somehow poignant as it opens the door to having a real conversation about race no matter your background. “American Fiction” is as honest as the day is long — especially here in the Midwest in winter — as we, the viewer feel as if we are peeking in on Monk’s life. We see him as a brother, the love and comfort between he and Lisa (Ellis Ross). While there’s a combative element between Monk and Clifford (Brown), the love is there as are the decades of shared experiences, one of which is the burden of caring for Mom as she declines. Of course, Uggams shines in her role as the no-edit mother who has her good days and her bad ones and the family fights to do what’s right for her while still living their own lives.

“American Fiction” is a witty, smart, insightful, and relevant film for today’s world and for us all to see, but more importantly, it’s a film to start a conversation to better understand one another. This is the movie of the year. Don’t miss it.

4 Stars

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

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

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

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

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

“Tully” An honest yet humorous and emotionally raw look at motherhood

April 30th, 2018 Posted by Review, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on ““Tully” An honest yet humorous and emotionally raw look at motherhood”

Diablo Cody (“Juno,” “Young Adult”) writes this screenplay perhaps as she looks in the mirror, depicting life as a mother in one of the most raw and truthful films addressing the subject.  And Jason Reitman sits in the director’s chair for each of Cody’s screenplays, the second time directing Charlize Theron who stars as Marlo, a mother of 2 and pregnant with her 3rd, whose wealthy brother offers to pay for a “night nanny.”  With 2 active and demanding youngsters, a newborn, and a “typical” husband, Marlo is exhausted and bites the bullet, taking her  brother up on his generous offer.  As  Tully (Mackenzie Davis) and Marlo begin to bond, life takes a wonderfully positive turn, but as the layers are peeled away we discover so much more.  It’s an eloquent and insightful film that humorously and dramatically portrays the thoughts, emotions, and harsh realities of what motherhood is like on a daily basis as we are reminded of our dreams, our past, and our futures.

The first scene depicts a strange but peaceful interaction as Marlo brushes her young son, Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica).  This is the calm before the storm as reality rears its evil head as the family gets ready for school.  Rushed and late for a meeting, we learn that Jonah “is quirky,” perhaps on the Autism Spectrum.  The tension builds to a deafening crescendo, plunging all of us moms who are honest enough to admit it into a caldron of boiling lava.  There are more frustrating and incredulous yet relatable situation ahead as Marlo and her hubby (Ron Livingston) just get through the day after #3, Mia, is born.

Marlo’s struggles with balancing it all is like watching someone juggle fine china on a tightrope with her eyes closed.  You know she’s going to fall, but how hard?  Or will Tully truly save the day?  The interaction between the Marlo and Davis is odd yet genuine creating a sense of connection as we all begin to wonder why we didn’t have a “night nanny!”  As Marlo seems to steady herself with Tully’s support, that calmness returns.  Life is good again.  Or is it?  After watching the film twice, there are plenty of clues to pick up on to alert you to what is, initially, a shocking conclusion to the film.  While there is plenty of humor, this turn jolts you into understanding a bit more about the stress of childbirth and being a mother.  It’s perfect, actually. 

Cody’s script, Reitman’s direction, and the finely tuned execution of acting from the entire cast, but particularly Theron and Davis create one of the most open and honest depictions of what it’s like to be a mom.   We see the birth of Mia and the sheer exhaustion without elation afterward.  We get a glimpse into the never-ending days of diaper changes, cooking dinner, doing school work, crying baby, messes, and night feedings through quick-paced editing.  We feel her stress and exhaustion thanks to all of these components skillfully interwoven into the picture.

Theron is simply perfect in her portrayal of Marlo.  We are immediately connected to her and understand her every look and thought.  It’s as if she is allowing us to read her mind.  Theron is a master at this, and Davis seems to rise to Theron’s level of performance, balancing one another beautifully. 

Livingston’s portrayal of Drew is pretty typical of “every dad” at least from most wives’ perspective.  He’s sweet and loves his kids dearly, but really is out of touch.  His incessant video gaming doesn’t help matters and Marlo seems bothered, but too tired to truly do anything about it.  Again, most moms/wives out there can easily relate to this situation as well, even though a lot of dads out there are going to feel a bit slighted in the way this dad is portrayed.

“Tully” is a remarkable work of art as it depicts reality.  The story is told from a woman’s perspective about an issue and issues we moms experience.  I’ve never laughed so hard as I could relate to situations, knowing that while motherhood is wonderful, it’s one of the toughest jobs out there.  That’s where “Tully” makes a statement like no other of its cinematic predecessors–it’s honest and filled with humor while serving raw emotion to all.   


“Unsane” is insanely thrilling

March 23rd, 2018 Posted by Review, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on ““Unsane” is insanely thrilling”

Steven Soderbergh is a prolific producer, but his directorial resume is quite impressive as well, particularly with the more recent film “Logan Lucky” which unfortunately flew under the radar with both critics and viewers.  Now, Soderbergh takes a “stab” at his first horror film, “Unsane.”  But to label it as just that, does it an injustice.  It’s more of a psychological thriller with horror elements a la Stephen King.  Think of it as a bit of “Shutter Island” and “Misery” blended together with touches of reality versus paranoia and you have “Unsane”  all shot on an iPhone!  

Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy-”The Crown”) leads a paranoid life, always looking over her shoulder, haunted or perhaps I should say, hunted, by a stalker.  As she seeks professional counseling in yet another new town where she works successfully as a banking analyst, Sawyer is inadvertently self-admitted into a psychiatric ward.  Unable to control her temper and “seeing” her stalker as a caregiver at the facility, she lashes out, increasing her observational time at the institute.  Attempting to get out, Sawyer befriends Nate (Jay Pharoah), contacts her mother, all the while unravelling from within with a little help from Violet (Juno Temple) and Nurse George (Joshua Leonard).  

“Unsane” sets the uneasy tone as we first meet Sawyer in her new surroundings, narrating what her thoughts are and giving us a few hints about her past.  A few ideological seeds are planted regarding her mental status creating a distrust between the viewer and this supposed protagonist.  The questioning continues throughout the film, even when we are provided with solid information and it is this intuitive writing that hones into the viewers’ psyche making “Unsane” insanely captivating.  

Foy plays a strong and smart young woman with nerves of steel whose very inner being is tested.  Each and every scene delves more deeply into her paranoia with just enough uncertainty that you begin to wonder what you would do in that same situation.  Could you endure the treatment?  How would you get out?  Could you just be quiet and try to assimilate until your insurance ran out?  (It’s the medical system so it’s all about the bottom line!)  Pulling the viewer personally into that situation makes your heart race as you audibly gasp at some rather chilling and horrific occurrences.  

Leonard has a dual role and again, he evokes feelings of trust as well as distrust in the first half of the film.  As the truth is revealed, the story plunges down that rabbit hole of panic, tapping into the fight or flight defense mechanism we all inherently have.  Pharoah stands out in his role as confidante, providing a bit of much needed levity and Temple is a natural in her role as psych patient with her bizarre mannerisms and lashing out unexpectedly.  

As with any thriller/horror film, it is the element of surprise that makes them fun and while I can’t say this is fun, it most certainly kept me guessing.  There were also some scenes that I simply couldn’t keep my eyes on the screen and I was thankful that I sat in the front row so that when I quickly sank into my seat to avoid what was coming at me visually, I didn’t kick the person in front of me.  Here’s a warning—there are some psychologically disturbing and gruesome scenes, particularly toward the end that may be too much for some viewers.

Now, back to the iPhone as the camera.  Knowing this when you go in, you take notice of some of the camera work initially, but you quickly forget about it as you are sucked into the plot and the characters.  Seeing a film from a writer/director/producer/cinematographer the calibre of Soderbergh who chose to film “Unsane” on an iPhone will surely inspire future filmmakers everywhere.  

“Unsane” is a brilliantly thrilling horror movie that any Stephen King fan would enjoy.  Its chilling premise, unflinching acting, and gut-wrenching elements of suspense allow even the jaded movie goer to feel like he/she has seen something new.  And without any spoilers, the end of the film is simply perfect.

3 1/2 Stars

"Blade Runner 2049" Does it predict the future?

October 1st, 2017 Posted by News, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Blade Runner 2049" Does it predict the future?”

BladeRunner 2049

BLADE RUNNER 2049 picks up 30 years after its predecessor, “Blade Runner”  which starred Harrison Ford, Sean Young, and Rutger Hauer in one of his best roles ever.  The original, based on the science-fiction king Phillip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” was so novel in its day that it created  a cult following, highly anticipating this sequel.  “2049” continues the premise of rogue “replicants” (artificial humans) who need to be “retired” (killed), but  this time it’s Ryan Gosling who’s the LAPD Officer, “K,” aka the assassin.  If you’re wondering whether or not you need to see the 1982 version first, the answer is a definitive yes!


This will be a completely spoiler-free review as I do not want to give ANY plot points or twists away.  “2049” is dark and foreboding as it looks into the future of mankind, possibly predicting what we have done to our environment, our world.  We see snow in L.A.  The water levels have risen, and any sort of plant life is all but extinct.  Protein farming (aka bugs) and synthetic food is the mainstay.  Humans have fled earth to go “Off World.”  As you watched the original film, taking place in 2019, you can’t help but wonder how much of this new film will be an accurate prediction of our coming world.


The entire 2 hours and 43 minutes experience is dark and misty, void of color and light, creating a feeling of hopelessness as we query what it means to be human.  The social relevance cannot be overlooked as there is discussion of “purity” of humankind and “a wall.”  Pondering these issues is at the core of the film as we become acquainted with “K” and his life and goals.  Finding answers to perplexing riddles of humanity takes “K” and the viewers down a forbidden and foreboding path filled with dangers lurking at every corner.  The film has all the markings of a great sequel, but the emotion of the film, unfortunately, falls flat.


The true stars of the “2049” are the special effects and Harrison Ford who returns as “Deckard.”  Technology has come a long way in filmmaking since 1982, the release year of the original “Blade Runner” and without this, “2049” would have little to hold on to.  (The studio has asked not to have any of these effects revealed in reviews in order to allow viewers to experience them first-hand.)  These visually interesting scenes  wake us up from a plot that seems lost in the darkness of the film,  but many of these effects seem unnecessary as they really have little to do with driving the story forward.  It’s not until Ford becomes more of a focal point, that “2049” finally picks up the pace and the interest level.   And for those of you who enjoyed the religious symbolism in the first film, there’s plenty more, most of it quite obvious, in “2049.”


Gosling is the perfect leading man in films like “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and “The Notebook,” but he’s just not strong enough to  carry “2049.”   His robotic characterization of “K” neither connects us to him nor entertains us.  This rather dull performance can’t maintain our interest in a 2 hour and 43 minute film.  Thankfully, from the ashes of the first half of the film, Ford brings new life to “2049.”   His performance is exactly what we expect and need to resuscitate the story.  His energy and depth of character immediately connects us to him.  Writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green also bring a Daryl Hannah “Pris” type of character into this new version with Mackenzie Davis portraying “Mariette,” the long, lanky blonde with jester-like make-up.  She, like Hannah, gives us a moment of intrigue, but her screen time is quite limited.  Jared Leto, always an interesting character, plays Niander Wallace, the new corporate leader who is simply heartless.  Robin Wright has such potential, but her role and dialogue are simply stunted, never allowing her to shine.  While the musical score is every bit as important in this sensory film, it is frequently overpowering and heavy-handed, sometimes obliterating a scene.


“Blade Runner 2049” cinematically does shine, but it’s not all about the camera.  It’s about the story and the story falls short.  Gosling’s lackluster performance is a wrench in the system and not even the talented and charismatic Harrison Ford can completely save the film.  That’s not to say this sequel isn’t worth seeing in the theater.  In fact, if you see it, that’s the only way to do it.  It’s big.  The effects are even bigger and the music, while it’s overpowering, allows you to experience the movie in a visceral way.  The topics and questions it brings to mind are well-worth discussing, but if you wanted originality and an captivating story, you’re out of luck.



2 1/2 Stars

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

"High Fantasy" confronts gender and race bias head on

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



"Tomorrow, Maybe" A father's redemption

June 3rd, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Tomorrow, Maybe" A father's redemption”



Written and directed by Jace Daniel

Starring:  Robert Blanche, Bethany Jacobs, and Grant Davis

A father-daughter bond and relationship can be an important foundation in a young girl’s development.  Jace Daniel shows us what happens between his two main characters, Lloyd (Robert Blanche) and Iris (Bethany Jacobs) who have anything but an ideal father-daughter relationship in the new film “Tomorrow, Maybe.”  This beautiful depiction of a father’s attempt to redeem himself after spending several years in prison will premiere at Dances With Films on Sunday, June 4th.  


tmblancheLloyd is not going to receive the Father of the Year award, there’s no doubt about that.  Going away to prison is the least of his transgressions in the world of fatherhood.  He was rarely a part of his daughter Iris’ life even before that time.  And now, being released from prison, Lloyd wants nothing more than to be forgiven by Iris and to be a part of her life.  Iris, experiencing marital issues of her own, is understandably reluctant to allow Lloyd back into her life, but that bond between the two still hangs on by a thread.  Her husband, Bobby (Grant Davis) is an abusive alcoholic tmbethnywho happens to be a police officer and the antagonistic behaviors challenge Lloyd to not cross any lines yet still protect the one thing he holds dear to him—his daughter.

“Tomorrow, Maybe,” creates a complicated story which typifies many of life’s possible situations.  Lloyd is an ex-con and having paid for his crime, he remains unwelcome in social envtmgrantironments as well as the work force.  He is a changed man, but leaving behind his past is impossible.  He truly wants to be a better father, but when is it too late?  The fallout that occurs when a parent isn’t there is sometimes irreparable. And the psychology behind our choices, first as daughters and then as women, can be greatly influenced by our fathers.  Iris is drawn to Bobby who is struggling with his identity which pushes him further away from Iris and deeper into his alcoholic hole.  This film beautifully weaves together all of these issues into a compelling tale of life, forgiveness, understanding, and redemption.

Bringing these complicated and realistic characters to life requires a talented cast and “Tomorrow, Maybe” resoundingly succeeds.  Blanche fits his character to a “t.”  We are immediately connected to this reformed man with a heart of gold and feel his pain and sorrow through his emotional eyes and body language.  Jacobs shines as his strong and independent daughter who is caught in a difficult situation.  Her struggle is evident and we feel her conflicted emotions regarding her husband and her father.  Davis is extraordinary.  His role has many layers which are revealed ever so slowly with absolute precision.  All of the characters feel real which also gives credit to the writing and directing of Daniel.  On the surface, the film appears simple, but the emotional complexities are boldly evident.  It’s a riveting drama with striking cinematography that captures and accentuates the emotional depth of the film.

For more information about “Tomorrow, Maybe,” go to

"Wonder Woman" It's about time!

May 31st, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Wonder Woman" It's about time!”


“Wonder Woman” has created quite a stir and quite frankly it’s just because she’s a super hero who happens to be female.  And, get ready for even more shocking news, the director is also a woman (Patty Jenkins).  It seems that the very axis of the world is wobbling uncontrollably because of “Wonder Woman.”  To add insult to injury, the Austin, TX Alamo Drafthouse held a “women only” screening of the super hero film which has garnered an outcry from overlooked men everywhere.  Poor dears.  Excluded from a movie screening…in one town…for one night.  The entire situation brings tears to my eyes.  What’s next?  50% of Congress is comprised of women?


The question remains, is the new “Wonder Woman,” starring the mesmerizingly gorgeous Gal Gadot and the handsomely charismatic Chris Pine going to live up to all the hype?  The answer is yes.  While this character has been around for quite some time—Wonder Woman is a founding member of the Justice League—and portrayed in comic books, animated shows, and television by Lynda Carter back in the 1970’s, it’s been decades since this or any female has been a lead character in a super hero movie.  And I think we all know how many super hero movies there have been recently!


This new “Wonder Woman” is an action-packed movie filled with evil characters as well as the requisite love story and misfit hero helpers that will entertain (are you ready for this?) both sexes.  Here’s the one resounding difference:  all the women are strong, intelligent, independent, and fit.  What a role model for young girls!  No damsels in distress.  No emaciated model-types looking gaunt and weak.  It’s pure strength and equality.


We meet the young Wonder Woman aka Diana  as an adorable, precocious and head-strong little girl (Lilly Aspell) who works her way into your heart.  As she grows, her mother, the Queen of the Amazonians (Connie Nielsen) is hesitant about training her to be a warrior and leader.  There are secrets she does not share until one day, a WWII plane crashes and Diana rescues the pilot, Capt. Steve Trevor (Pine), a spy for the British Army.  The Germans find him and bring catastrophic death to the women.  Diana, bound by her moral commitment to help all, leaves the island and travels with Trevor to London in search of the God of War, Aries, to kill him and bring peace back to the world.


“Wonder Woman” starts off strong and keeps this powerful pace going for most of the film.  The story is familiar, as would be expected in all super hero movies, but there are fresh aspects to it that keep you glued to the screen.  The humor interwoven into the film’s fabric create overt as well as subtle moments of laughter—reproductive necessities, shopping for just the right outfit (“Outfit #224), and the inequalities of women’s rights during that time period all create a comedic relief.  There are also quite a few socially relevant statements that still ring true to today’s times if you listen carefully.


Casting Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman is nothing short of perfection.  Visually, she is absolutely stunning, yet there is so much more to her performance than just a pretty face.  She has depth and heart—exactly what you would expect from her character.  By her side is the equally talented Pine who embodies the hero with charm and humor and together the two hold viewers spellbound.  Nielsen creates a tough mother and queen character, but  also gives us one of the most touching moments in the film.  As she parts from Diana, her words of wisdom are perhaps words all mothers should utter regarding worthiness.  In fact, the entire cast shines in their respective roles creating this comic book/real life amalgam of a world.


Special effects and precision of choreographed fighting play an enormous role in “Wonder Woman,” adding an element of captivating fantasy.   Using slow-motion in a Guy Ritchie-type of fashion paired with unique camera perspectives give “Wonder Woman” that comic book flare.  Where this film fails is the non-stop battle and explosions for the final 30 minutes.  This seems to be typical of ALL super hero movies.  While the end is fitting, a bit of editing could have made this film stand out even more from all the rest.


“Wonder Woman” will definitely live up to the hype and DC Comics couldn’t be any happier to have broadened their already large viewer base.  Setting examples of strong, independent, fit women is something to support.  It’s a daring move by Warner Bros. to attempt to feature a female this way.  Maybe the movies can pave the way to see women in a more equal light.  Perhaps we can all be Wonder Women.



"Everything, Everything" is nothing, nothing

May 20th, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Everything, Everything" is nothing, nothing”


Nicola Yoon’s best-selling, young adult novel “Everything, Everything” is now a major motion picture, and it’s YA audience might be the only one it can appeal to.

Stella Maghie directs this film targeting 13- to 18-year-olds, with a script that’s slow-moving, texting-heavy and ridiculous, followed by a repetitive musical overlay in an emotionally (and visuallyeverything) sterile environment.

To read the rest of the review as printed in the Friday, May 19 edition of The Daily Journal, go to

Our critic's picks from the annual Austin arts festival

March 21st, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Our critic's picks from the annual Austin arts festival”



The South by Southwest Film Festival, part of the larger conglomerate festival known as SXSW, now in its 24th year, takes place in Austin, Texas, and ended on Sunday. This 10-day festival celebrates music, comedy and film drawing more than 72,000 participants. What’s the draw? Well, barbecue, of course, but also world premiere films, A-list movie stars, directors and writers all converging on this bustling little city.


I was lucky to be able to cover this high energy film festival on behalf of the Daily Journal and bring back the highlights for you. Many of the recommended films will be opening theatrically in the coming weeks and months, and others you’ll be able to find on Netflix and other digital platforms soon.

Read the entire article here as it was published in the Monday, March 20th issue of The Daily Journal.

SXSW Favorites…so far

March 12th, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “SXSW Favorites…so far”


Never before have I gone to a festival where each and every film I have seen has been a winner!  SXSW has an amazing line up and it seems I can’t go wrong.  Beginning with “44 Pages” and concluding the morning with “Fits and Starts” with 10 other films sandwiched in between, the films are truly stellar.  6 more films are yet to be seen with accompanying interviews so you know what movies to put on your radar for the year!

Wondering what these amazing films are?  Here is the entire list with a few capsule reviews; full reviews to follow.

44 PAGES:  The cherished Highlights Magazine we all remember from childhood, many of us recalling looking forward to going to the dentist because of this, has celebrated its 70th anniversary.  Filmmaker Tony Shaff brings us behind the welcoming doors in Pennsylvania where this wholesome and educational magazine began, allowing us to fall in love with its principles and values once again.  We learn about the family origins and its ability to stay relevant in today’s trying times.  It’s a beautiful and reaffirming film that reminds us about what’s important in life—children.

THE HERO:  Brett Haley who brought us “I’ll See You In My Dreams” gives us yet another gift depicting the life of Lee Hayden, an old actor struggling with life’s regrets and mortality while attempting to live as boldly as possible.  Sam Elliott gives us an extraordinarily commanding performance and we, the viewers, can relish in the fact that he is the lead.  Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, and Nick Offerman are the light beneath Elliott that allows him to shine even more brightly.

THIS IS YOUR DEATH:  Imagine a reality game show where contestants commit suicide in order to raise money to justify their life’s failings.  Far-fetched?  Not really.  In a legal loophole, a television station uses this to create a show that will allow them to become the #1 station.  Josh Duhamel embraces the role as the show’s host, Adam Rogers, as the more and more deplorable behavior is continually pushed.  It’s a disturbingly captivating look at our society and how desensitized we have become.

A BAD IDEA GONE WRONG:  Two losers looking for a quick way to make money plan the perfect heist.  Marlon (Matt Jones) and Leo (Will Rogers)  device a hairbrained scheme to break into a house only to be trapped inside due to several silly errors.  One bad decision leads to another as we get to know and somehow love these unlikely bad guys.  It’s quite quirky and downright funny from start to finish.

FITS AND STARTS:  Laura Terruso created a favorite of RHR, “Hello, My Name Is Doris” and now brings us one of the most genuinely charming and realistically hilarious film about love, relationships, jealousy, and marriage!  David (Wyatt Cenac) and Jennifer aka J.M. (Greta Lee) are both writers, but Jennifer’s career is exploding, leaving David in her wake.  As they travel from NYC to Connecticut for a party, their lives unravel, bringing us to tears from laughing at such relatable situations.  Rarely do you find such sincerity and honesty in a film that is as entertaining as it is emotionally real.


European Union Film Festival sets record for number of female directors

March 1st, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “European Union Film Festival sets record for number of female directors”



European Union Film Festival sets record for number of female directors



The Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago began in 1972 and since that time, it has been home to several cutting edge “film festivals that celebrate diverse voices and international cultures…”  One of those innovative festivals includes the upcoming Chicago European Union Film Festival (CEUFF), now celebrating its 20th year, beginning March 3 through March 30.

Programming Co-Director Barbara Scharres says the experimental festival’s initial committee was comprised of various EU diplomats in Chicago as well as representatives from an array of cultural institutions such as the Goethe Institute, and the Italian and French Cultural Institutes.  “Changing times,” Sharres added, “diminished consular budgets, and diminished full-scale diplomatic presence in Chicago has meant that we need to look to other possibilities for support.  I must emphasize that we still have some terrific partners among the full consulates and cultural institutes.”

Read the entire article here

The 11th Annual Suncoast Credit Union Gasparilla International Film Festival (GIFF) begins March 2

February 23rd, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “The 11th Annual Suncoast Credit Union Gasparilla International Film Festival (GIFF) begins March 2”


With snow in the forecast for those of us in northern climes, here’s a stellar reason to head to the Tampa, Florida area—the Gasparilla International Film Festival!  If you’re lucky enough to be a snow bird, then you’ve got an amazing film festival right in your own backyard.  The festival hosts 35 feature-length films and 70 shorts— a film for everyone in this year’s lineup.  GIFF’s president, Rachel Marks Feinman, feels that these films “entertain, educate, and inspire” the community.  Taking a look at all the world premieres and films currently traveling the festival circuit with a lot of buzz, Feinman is most assuredly correct.



“Burn Your Maps,” the festival’s opening night film starring Vera Farmiga (“Up in the Air”), Virginia Madsen (“Sideways”), and Jacob Tremblay (“Room”) and “Unleashed,” starring Justin Chawin (“Shameless”), a fantasy comedy about the “perfect man,” bookend documentary, international, and narrative feature films such as “The Architect,” “Disturbing the Peace,” and Florida focused films “Turtle Tale,” “King Charles,”and more.  It’s an exciting array of films not to be missed.  Here’s how you can get tickets and enjoy the festival to its fullest degree:


If you think film festivals are just about seeing movies,  you’d be mistaken.  Parties, panel discussions, red carpets, and special events are every bit as much of a film festival as the films themselves.  Attend panel discussions to  learn how to pitch a film or find out how to get that film distributed.  These are just two of the many  topics addressed in the panel discussions.  Check out GIFF Panel Discussion Schedule for a complete listing.  Parties (Hey, it can’t be ALL work and no play!) and watching the stars walk the red carpet are all a part of GIFF too.  Unlike many festivals, GIFF invites you to participate in these events. ( GIFF Party Schedule) GIFF also remembers to include the kids in their festival.  “Family Fun Day” takes place on Sunday, March 5 from 11 am – 3 pm.  Live entertainment by Mr. Tommy, free t-shirts, activities by the Tampa Bay Rays and DJ Kitty, and a petting zoo are all a part of this fun-filled day! Family Fun Day


GIFF celebrates its 11th year in style at the Tampa Theatre, Muvico Centro Ybor, and HCC Ybor.  Don’t miss out on being the first to view great films from all over the world, seeing your favorite stars, and participating in the spectacular events and panel discussions.

Check back for continuous updates on reviews and recommendations!


"That Unusual Brick" Burks' Hallmark of Short Filmmaking

February 15th, 2017 Posted by Review, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"That Unusual Brick" Burks' Hallmark of Short Filmmaking”


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What could you possibly say in a film that is only four minutes long?  Well, if it’s a film by Jesse Burks, the sky is the limit!  In his newest short film, he continues to astound viewers with his unusual story-telling techniques and his ability to surprise you.  Two of his previous films, “One Please” and “Cured,” were gruesomely shocking and funny.  But “That Unusual Brick” shows us that Burks has many more ideas and tricks up his creative sleeve.

We find our main character (Harley Burks) in an upscale sushi cafe, beautifully appointed with warm brick and wood decor.  It’That Unusual Brick -stills obvious that this man is extremely neurotic when it comes to order as he rearranges, ever so slightly, the angle of his chopsticks and the symmetry and balance of the cups on the table.  When his food is presented, a little askew of course, he once again makes sure to put things in order, but before he can take his first bite, order is completely thrown off with a tap, tap, tap behind the brick wall.  What he discovers is bizarrely unexpected and mind-boggling with a reaction that is equally odd.

Burks’ has such a keen eye for taking an ordinary situation and making it different, sometimes visually jarring and in this case, conceptually conflicting.  His perspective, particularly in “The Unusual Brick” is as much of the story as the main character, giving a certain depth to the story that is wonderfully rich.  The cinematography utilizes a camera angle that seats us at the table across from this young man, allowing us to not only observe his strange obsession with precision, but to experience it.


This is a dialogue-freeThat Unusual Brick-still9 film, but it is far from silent.  The music is also a character, giving us the right emotion to feel at each turning point in the film.  The whimsical nature soon turns to unease, as the music stops and we hear only the din of the diners and the tapping behind the wall.  Burks’ astute awareness of the emotional power of music and his attention to detail in sound effects creates the precision of a seasoned filmmaker.

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Harley Burks fine tunes his perfectionistic character, paying close attention to subtle expressions and body language.  While he utters not a word, he is very bold in what he communicates.


Color also communicates so much in this film.  It’s bright, clear and crisp with bold colors sharply on display in both the foreground and background…until we see what’s behind the wall.  The colors change perfectly capturing the feeling of the scene.

Burks finds another winner with “That Unusual Brick.”  It’s gorgeously shot, expertly acted, creatively written and executed, and all with such attention to detail,  allowing an unexpected story to unfold in just four short minutes.  This striking and captivating style of filmmaking is a hallmark of Burks’ work.


"It's Not Yet Dark" Shines Light on the Power of Love by Pamela Powell

February 2nd, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"It's Not Yet Dark" Shines Light on the Power of Love by Pamela Powell”


In the U.S., approximately 5600 people are diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease (MND), commonly referred to as ALS, although there are also other types.  While the number doesn’t seem high, the number of family members it affects is tremendous.  And if you are one of those 5600, then 1 is too many.  This degenerative and debilitating disease, affecting both the upper and lower body neurons in the brain, eventually leaves the individual wheelchair bound, on a respirator, and unable to eat or talk on his or her own.  Obviously, the effects, even for one individual, are devastating.  However, filmmaker Simon Fitzmaurice finds a way to perhaps more than cope with this disease…he embraces what he has every day and inspires everyone in his life to cherish the life we are given.  Filmmaker Frankie Fenton captures and tells Fitzmaurice’s emotional and remarkable journey in the uplifting documentary “It’s Not Yet Dark.”

The film immediately imparts a feeling of friendship as we get to know Fitzmaurice through old film footage, home videos, and photos with narration by  Colin Farrell.  Fitzmaurice’s parents, wife, and close friends give us an open and honest description of him from childhood to his wedding day to the birth of his children.   The images are beautifully paiimage (1)nted of this creative and determined young man who is  a son,  father,  husband and  filmmaker.  His journey then takes a marked left turn while attending the 2008 Sundance Film Festival to screen  his short film “Full Circle.”  It is at this time that Fitzmaurice notices a difference in the functioning of one of his feet and would soon learn that he has MND.


While Fitzmaurice has penned the book “It’s Not Yet Dark,” it is the collaborative effort of all those involved that make the story come to life on the big screen.  Farrell’s poetic and lilting narration becomes Fitzmaurice’s own voice and transports you to his world.  We feel as if we are wearing his shoes, taking on his journey, allowing us to be a part of the incredible trek through his life.  While MND would be a death sentence to most, Fitzmaurice’s determination and ingenuity continue to give him a meaningful and loving life.  We see this in his work and the passionate yet reserved interviews with Ruth, his wife.  Hearing her talk about living in the moment speaks not just to Fitzmaurice’s situatiits-not-yet-darkon, but to us all.  Ultimately, the film brings us to witnessing Fitzmaurice’s goal:  completion of the feature film “My Name is Emily.”

While this is a heartbreaking story, it is one that is also positive and uplifting, giving viewers hope and strength.   Fitzmaurice’s insight, intelligence, and ability to communicate is simply profound and Fenton crafts this film to give us that depth.

“It’s Not Yet Dark” is an extraordinary documentary telling us a story of not just a man with ALS or MND, but of a groundbreaking and innovative visionary who uses his intellect fueled by the love of life and family to ford ahead.

For more information about this film, go to

“It’s Not Yet Dark” premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.   I had the pleasure to meet many of the caring and creative individuals associated with the film.  Listen to the entire interview HERE





Sundance Day 1 Highlights by Pamela Powell

January 20th, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Sundance Day 1 Highlights by Pamela Powell”

The Sundance Film Festival is well underway as opening night is officially over.  6 full-length feature films were shown and RHR has a capsule review for 3 of them.

POP AYE:  As a middle-aged man whose personal and professional life is waning, he stumbles upon an elephant in captivity who he recognizes as a childhood family pet.  He sets out on an adventure with Pop Aye to return him to his homeland.  It’s  a journey of self-discovery filled with humor and bumps in the road.  The unique individuals he encounters add such emotional beauty, driving the story forward.  This coming-of-age (middle-age, that is) film, gorgeously shot, depicts a certain human quality that we can all relate to.  Think about it as a grown-ups version of a boy and his dog…substitute “man” and “elephant” and you’ve got the concept.

AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL:  Former Vice President Al Gore gives us a follow up film to the original “An Inconvenient Truth,” made 10 years ago.  This newest film depicts the rapid progression of the detrimental effects of global warming and the path that we are on.  While most documentaries that tackle this topic are all doom and gloom, “An Inconvenient Sequel” is inspiring as we learn about the technological advances in renewable energy and how the entire world and its leaders are not only recognizing the problem, but addressing it.  Where the doom comes in is how the U.S. is failing in leading the world in helping to solve this global issue.  Mr. Gore takes us on his journey to Paris to the summit where it came down to the ingenuity of his problem solving skills and his ability to work together with others for a greater good.  To say he is passionate is not a strong enough word.  He is truly inspiring and if he can help convince the leader of India to reconsider, perhaps he can convince the U.S. nay-sayers as well.

THE LITTLE HOURS:  The cast including Aubrey Plaza, Nick Offerman, Allison Brie, Dave Franco, John C. Reilly, and Molly Shannon would make anyone go see this movie about three nuns placed in a situation of temptation.  Unfortunately, the plot never really got anywhere although there were plenty of laugh out loud moments.  Overall, a bit of a disappointment.

Stay tuned for Day 2!




January 17th, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “SUNDANCE AHEAD! An interview with Stanley Nelson, filmmaker of TELL THEM WE ARE RISING: THE STORY OF BLACK COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES by Pamela Powell”


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Stanley Nelson, MacArthur “genius” Fellow and member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has completed his newest documentary which will premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival this week.  The film, “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities” isn’t his first Sundance film.  Just 2 years ago, the remarkable and award wiUnknown-1nning film “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” educated and entertained audiences.  This newest film, still quite literally in the color-correcting stage of production, will premiere on Monday, Jan. 23rd. Nelson, not worried a bit about finishing in time, shared with me his hopes for the film and the inspiration behind it.


Nelson, the father of 3, a 27 year old and a set of twins setting off for college soon, grew up in New York City, specifically, Manhattan.  He recalls, “My father was a dentist and my mother was a librarian so there was not choice about whether or not to go to college.”  He added, “I got out of high school during the Vietnam era and that was another reason I went to college.”  Initially, although he liked movies as much as the next person, he wasn’t focused upon filmmaking but then he noticed the influx of Blaxploitation films.  He observed that there“…were black people in front of the camera and few behind the camera, [and] I felt like I can do that!  Those films are really bad.  I can make a bad film too,” he chuckled aloud.  Nelson then transferred to Fordham’s film department.

Why did Nelson focus upon this particular topic for his new film?  His mother who attended Talladega College and his father who attended Howard University, while their choices were limited back the 1930’s to black schools only, it did, as he says,  “…make a huge difference in their lives and down through the generations in my family’s lives.”  He continues, “I felt it was a story that

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hadn’t been told.  Black colleges and universities were instrumental in forming black communities and being foundations for black middle class and nobody had ever really done a film about [it].

With a team of 3 researchers and a number of interns, Nelson found archival footage, old photos, and yearbooks to depict the history of several institutions.  Creatively, Nelson uses reenactments and graphic art to help fill in the blanks where photos and footage couldn’t be found.  He said, “So much of the film, maybe half of the film, takes place before 1930, before there was a lot of footScreen Shot 2017-01-17 at 8.44.23 AMage and we wanted to make the film come alive.  As we get later into the film, we don’t have to do recreations, but early on we do.  The film really starts out during slavery when African Americans were not allowed to learn to read and write and it was against the law for a white person to teach a slave how to read and write.  It shows you how scary the idea of education was.”

Nelson hopes that by telling this important part of history using film as the medium, that first and foremost people are entertained by it.  He says, “The next thing you want is for them to learn something.  I think that part of the idea of the film is that you see the great lengths that African Americans have gone through to secure eduction and…to control their own education.  I think it’s important to understand that education has the same importance that it did 170 years ago that it does today.  Why was the white slave holder so afraid of education?  It was a way to freedom.”

Why would someone choose an all black school for higher education?  Nelson explained that, “It’s one of the only times you’re in the majority, especially if you’re living a middle-class life.  A lot of times you’re going to all white schools.  In your work life if you’re moderately successful, you’re in a white majority setting so this is a chance to be in a black majority setting and I think that builds great value.”

Screen Shot 2017-01-17 at 8.44.02 AMGiven our current political environment, I asked Nelson about whether or not we were taking a few steps backward and how he thought we could avoid repeating the ugliness of our history.  His answer was sound and confident as he shared, “I think that societies will always tend to, in the long run, move forward.  It’s a roller coaster ride.  I think that’s what we’ve seen recently.  If we don’t constantly regroup and push forward, we go backward.”

As his youngest children head to majority white universities in the fall, not following in their grandparents’ footsteps of all black universities, Nelson hopes that they can both attend an all black university for a semester….it’ll be really interesting for them and they’ll enjoy it.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed. I want them to make their own choices and be happy in college.

Nelson has an amazing upcoming week with not only his Sundance film premiere, but his special on BET called “Through the Fire: The Legacy of Barack Obama” airing on Thursday, January 19 at 7pm EST.  The show explores President Obama’s two terms in office blending archival footage with interviews with some rather extraordinary guests:  Samuel L. Jackson, Common, Usher, and narrated by Jesse Williams.

Nelson’s passion not only for filmmaking, but for portraying life shines through with every film he makes.  Sundance will be yet another shining example of his work and he says, “I’m really excited to see the film with an audience and see the reaction!”


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"Timecode" Gets stamp of approval by Pamela Powell

January 11th, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Timecode" Gets stamp of approval by Pamela Powell”


Luna (Lali Ayguade) and Diego (Nicolas Ricchini) are security guards in a parking garage.  The two pass each other as their shifts change and take over the surveillance cameras until one day, Luna must backtrack and view a specific time coded recording.  What she sees will change her perception and interaction with Diego forever.


“Timecode” is an unexpectedly delightful film filled with charm and grace.  While little is spoken aloud, so much is actually heard.  The two guards lead a rather dull, solitary, and seemingly uninteresting life until their paths quite literally cross.  The delicate balance in communication using timecode stamping allows the two to have sometTimecode_Still_01_Main-framehing to look forward to, a more complete work life and perhaps even more.

Juanjo Gimenez and Pere Altimira co-wrote this gorgeously shot film creating a sweet and lovely story taking us from loneliness to companionship in the most unusual way.  Initially, the antics of Diego make you chuckle, but then when Luna is drawn in, we see beauty absolute beauty.  Granted, this is one of the shiniest and cleanest parking garages I have ever seen, but the glistening floors coordinate with the spectacular dancing and reciprocal emotional compatibility.  Needless to say, the music, composed by Ivan Cester, perfectly augments each and eveTimecode_Still_04_hiry scene to fill the air with unspoken words with each note that is struck.  It is a complete work of auditory, visual, and emotional artistry.

It is no wonder that “Timecode” is the winner of more than 50 prizes including the Festival de Cannes (France) and the Whistler Film Festival.  In just 15 minutes, we readily identify with the emotional status of each of the main actors and then are not only intrigued by their interactions, but truly care about what happens to them at the end.  It is a complete joy to watch and feel this story unfold.  And in this 15 minute time-period, the end will make you laugh out loud.

Creating such a beautifully rich story in just 15 minutes is extraordinary.  Many full-length feature films struggle with doing so in 86 minutes, but “Timecode” successfully engages and entertains you.  Make time to see this sweet and gracefully beautiful film.



The Best of 2016 by Pamela Powell

December 27th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “The Best of 2016 by Pamela Powell”


2016 was an impressive year for films and festivals.  While some of my favorite films (“Maudie,” “Katie Says Goodbye,” “Tramps,” and “Colossal”) won’t be out until next year, there’s a great array of films that you can see in theaters and VOD/DVD right now that have made my top list for 2016.  You’re going to see a few titles that aren’t on any other film critic’s list (and that’s a good thing), as I try to seek out the hidden independent gems in film.  Be sure to read the full reviews of each of these films as not every film is going to be for everyone.

fences1TOP 10 FILMS OF 2016:

1.  FENCES (review)



4.  LION (review)


6.  DON’T THINK TWICE (review) (link to interviews)

7.  ARRIVAL  (review)


9.  LOVE & FRIENDSHIP (review)

10.  THE DRESSMAKER (review)

Honorable Mentions Include:  “Morris From America” (review), “The Infiltrator” (review), and “Hell or High Water” (review),”La La Land” (review), “Nocturnal Animals,” “Jackie,” “Loving,” “Little Men,” “Hidden Figures” and “Midnight Special” (review) (interview with Jeff Nichols)




2.  PUSHING DEAD  (review)

3.  BFFs (review)



6.  THE TAIL JOB (interview)

7.  DO OVER (review) (NOT the Adam Sandler one…the Gina Field film!)


9.  THE AMERICAN SIDE (review)


Honorable Mentions Include:  “Stevie D,” “Bear With Us (review),” “Where We’re Meant to Be (review),” “The Arbalest” (review) “Jessica”  (review)“Dating Daisy” (review) “Red Christmas”  (review), “Comfort” (review) , “Honeyglue” (review), and “Career Oportunities in Organized Crime” (review)





2.  RESILIENCE (review)

3.  CIRCLE OF POISON ((review)



6. NUTS!

7.  CITY OF GOLD (interview) (review)



10.  THE SYNDROME (review)

Honorable Mentions Include:  “Bugs” (review), “Do Not Resist” (review),”Visitor’s Day,” “Women He’s Undressed” (review) “Love Thy Nature”  (review), “Bugs,” “Rwanda & Juliet” (review)“I Am Bolt,” “Denial” (review)“Packed in a Trunk” (review) “I am the Blues” (review) “Insatiable: The Homaro Cantu Story” (review) “Hope for All,” and “Sonita”





3.  AFTER THE STORM (review)

4.  THE WAILING (review)

5.  MOTHER (review)




9. L’ATTESA (review)

10. PARCHED (review)

Thanks to everyone for checking out this list and for reading my reviews throughout the year.  2017 looks to be quite promising!  I’ll be covering Sundance, SXSW, Phoenix, Tribeca, and Toronto again this coming year to keep you abreast of all the great films coming out.  And the Waterfront Film Festival returns in South Haven, MI which always finds wonderfully amazing indie gems that I’ll be able to share with you.

Cheers and Happy (Healthy) New Year to everyone!




An interview with Josh Gordon and Will Speck from "Office Christmas Party" by Pamela Powell

December 9th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “An interview with Josh Gordon and Will Speck from "Office Christmas Party" by Pamela Powell”




Will Speck and Josh Gordon


“Office Christmas Party” has an all-star cast that will let you escape the holiday stresses, make you laugh, and maybe feel a little guilty for laughing at the raunchiness.  But the main thing is that it’s FUN!  I had the absolute pleasure to sit down and talk with Josh Gordon and Will Speck who directed and collaborated in the writing of this high-energy, quick-witted holiday party like no other.  WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Here’s what they had to say:

PP(Pamela Powell): Don’t judge me yet…but I have to tell you that I wasn’t looking forward to this movie.  I thought it was going to be one of those typical compilation of big names and you’ll never see them interact and it wasn’t!  I had so much fun!

WS (Will Speck):  OH GOOD!  TELL YOUR FRIENDS.  It’s actually a strange one because when we tested it, it was young men 18-24 and women over 35 which is a very interesting and weird spread, and very hard to market to.

JG (Josh Gordon):  But I think the movie has heart which appeals to people, surprises people.

WS:  And we tried to make them real people that have real relationships.  I think that’s what people like about the movie is that it’s not just a bunch of jokes strung together.

PP:  It was funny! And silly!

JG:  I’m glad your night wasn’t as terrible as you thought it was going to be!

PP:  Absolutely not!  In last night’s Q&A, you said that this movie idea was yours.  Since you pitched this movie, you must have collaboration with the writing even though you are credited solely as the directors.  How much collaboration was there?

WS:  There’s a lot…I think in this case, we had a very firm idea about what kind of movie we wanted this to be and feel like.  I think the thing that was challenging was finding a story in it.   So we went a couple rounds with different writers to try to shape how much plot versus how much character…we didn’t just want it to be… all about plot… like we have to find a microchip at the party,

JG: and suddenly that takes over the story.   We wanted the party to be the engine and so you have to have a very light plot line that always forces the story front and center, the party front and center.  It was a process.

WS:  We collaborated at each stage with each writer; there were a few of them.  We feel like we ended up with a good balance between character and plot…There’s something where they have to save the company, there’s a way that they do it, but it’s light enough that it creates a framework for all those characters to have each of their moments.

PP:  I loved that the gender roles were reversed!  Jennifer Anniston is the powerhouse, Olivia Munn is the brilliant tech, and then Kate McKinnon is farting at a meeting.  These are typically guy types of roles.

WS:  Don’t forget the pimp Julian Bell!

PP:  That’s right!  She was great!  Another powerhouse!

JG:  We worked very hard [so] that the movie felt balanced  and that we were subverting some of the expectations.

WS:  One of them that was difficult was the idea of a prostitute and pimp because A, you’ve seen that a million times B, it feels like a movie contrivance, those roles, and so Josh and I came [up with] this idea that we should make her a female pimp.

JG: With anxiety issues!

WS:  But I think like Josh said, we tried to balance it and subvert the expected.

JG:  And I think that we also are benefitting from people offering women better roles and women proving that they are amazing and funny and can cary movies and now we were able to pick from a lot of very talented women

WS:  It’s funny, we sort of forgot that because it wasn’t “agendized.”  It was also just like great people for each role, but there were definitely moments where we would be in a scene and it would be  Jason and 6 women and we were like,  Wow!  This is a totally female-centered movie.

JG:  We’re being really modern!

WS:  When they go out to find TJ, it’s really Jason, Olivia, Jennifer, and Kate.  So he’s kind of odd man out and it’s usually the reverse of that.

PP:  He’s the insecure, meek, demure person and that’s usually the female’s role.

WS:  He’s got the girl role!

PP:  Maybe that’s why it’s appealing to females 35 and older.  Tell me about filming in Chicago as  many years ago you won awards for your short films at the Chicago International Film Festival.  Were you here for that?

JG:  We came for that.  We’ve always loved Chicago.  My family’s from Chicago.  My mom was born here.

WS:  I’m from Cleveland, so we’re both from the Midwest.

JG:  We have an affinity for the city.  For us, we grew up loving the same movies and a lot of them were shot in Chicago.  We loved “Risky Business,” we loved the “Blues Brothers,” we loved “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” and so there’s a character to this city, there’s a tone to the comedy of this city that really appeals to us. Even Second City is a big seminal thing for us.  If you’re picking a big midwest city, where you want your underdog company to be set, Chicago is just a natural place  for us and we were thrilled when the studio allowed us to shoot here because it’s slightly more expensive, but  worth it cinematically because it’s such a beautiful city.

PP:  What did your stars think about filming in Chicago in the winter?

WS:  They were actually thrilled.  I mean the thing about LA is you get really sick of sunshine and 70’s.

PP:  (eye roll) Oh, please.

WS:   No, for real!  It’s like you guys with cold.  I think for all of us we were just excited to be in a place that felt like winter.  It was April when we got here so it was winter/spring, but we got  lucky and had snow fall twice when we were on our exteriors.

JG:  Chicago wanted us to shoot here.

WS:  When we were on the set and we were shooting and it started snowing, the crew was like, this is the first time it’s snowed in a month.  It was a Christmas miracle.  When they’re crossing the bridge in the first act, and it’s snowing, it’s the real deal.

PP:  You had talked last night about having a lot of improvisational or alternative lines that were filmed.  Were any of those lines kept in the film?

WS:  Yeah!  A bunch of them!  The Uber scene, that was written on that day.  Fortune Feimster who’s an amazing talent who you’ll know a lot more about after this movie comes out because this was her very first on-screen appearance.  [She] came up with stuff on the fly.

JG:  A lot of Kate Mc Kinnon’s stage performance is just Kate being brilliant.

PP:  Maintaining that high energy level throughout film  had to have been tough.  How many days did you film?

WS:  We shot for 43 days…

PP:  That’s a lot of energy

JG:  That’s a lot of partying!

PP:  You had to have been exhausted

WS:  We were.  We still are!  It was “fast and furious!”

JG:  We just finished the movie two weeks ago!

WS:  It’s been a marathon.

PP:  What was the most fun scene to film?

WS:  There are things that you imagine in your mind…  We thought Oh!  What if you have an eggnog luge.  We thought that would be a weird thing that we’d never seen before and we came up with that in our imagination…that was really fun to see that up on its feet.

JG:  And it was great to see Jason go for it!

PP:  Yes he did!

WS:  The mayhem where things really fell apart where the cast had left…we had a few days in Atlanta…

JG:  Jesus riding the horse…

WS:  …really to wreck the set, that was really fun to do that.

JG:  We really had spent a lot of time designing the set in order to destroy it was kind of fun as filmmakers.

PP:  You had an amazing cast of comedians in this film.  Are there any comedic actors that you haven’t worked with that you would really love to?

WS:  I think Emma Stone is somebody who we love, who we’ve always wanted to work with. Chris Pratt we love…I think Meryl Streep because she’s funny and dramatic.   But I think this cast and this ensemble definitely checked a bunch of boxes of people we’ve always wanted to work with who we just literally offered the role  and are in the movie.

PP:  How did that work?  Did you have Jennifer Anniston on first and the rest just snowballed?

WS:  We have relationships with Jennifer and Jason.  We convinced and pushed to get TJ in the lead role.

JG:  Kate signed on early.

WS:  Those were our foundations and the snow just kept rolling down the hill, picking up more people as we went.

JG:  People want to play when it seems like it’s going to be a fun thing.

PP:  One last question.  I have to plan my husband’s office christmas party.  What should I do?

WS:  I think you should go on line.  Do you have access to internet?  You should go online to either Fandango or and I think you should get them all to go to “Office Christmas Party” the movie.

JG:  Because nothing puts you in the right mood more than “Office Christmas Party.”

WS:  And it’s also gonna be cheaper than throwing a party with bad catering.  Make sure you have music, good lighting.  I think those two things are the key to any party and a little bit of danger and make sure everyone has their phones off.

PP:  I need to find out where you guys ordered your ice sculpture luge!

JG:  We should open up a whole service!

“Office Christmas Party” opens nationwide December 9th.  While I had a lot of fun watching this film, there’s profanity, drug use, and nudity so it’s not for everyone.

And to everyone at the Oral Surgery Center, I found an ice sculpture eggnog luge!  Cheers!











"Manchester by the Sea" A genuine portrayal of love, life, and grief by Pamela Powell

November 25th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Manchester by the Sea" A genuine portrayal of love, life, and grief by Pamela Powell”





Written and Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, and Lucas Hedges

Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, and Lucas Hedges star in the new Kenneth Lonergan masterpiece, “Manchester by the Sea.”  Lonergan creates a realistic story revolving around loss, love, and responsibility as Lee (Affleck) learns of the death of his brother and is now charged with the responsibility of caring for his nephew, Patrick (Hedges).  Nothing is as simple as it appears as Lee has obvious guilt and remorse for an incident that drove him away from his hometown.  The story is a beautiful,deep, and sometimes harsh look into emotions and relationships.



Masterfully telling a story while creatively using a non-linear form takes an extraordinary writer and director.  Lonergan does this with ease.  We know from the beginning that Lee is carrying a heavy emotional load, but what and why remains to be revealed.  We get a glimpse into the drudgery of his life—the routine of being a janitor and the lack of any happiness frequently elicits angry outbursts that appear inexplicable, initially.  When Lee gets the phone call that his brother has passed away, his lack of emotion also is puzzling, but we find ourselves back in time when the two brothers and Patrick  have a wonderfully full and ordinary life.  The timeline continues to bounce back and forth, allowing us to get to know Lee and what is inside that baggage he drags with him every day of his life.


The relationship between Lee and Patrick is a complex one as Lee finds himself dealing with more than he can handle.  Patrick, a typical teen yet one who is much more insightful and intelligent than you’d expect for his age, manipulates his uncle to add a touch of humor to the story, but he also allows us to see his pain and uncertainty.  His openness with Lee creates such raw feelings that our heart breaks.  And Lee’s lack of communication actually balances the two extraordinarily.  Lee may not say as much verbally, but his expressions and body language say it all.  We are committed to these characters, empathizing with them, and understanding each and every decision whether we agree with it or not.

There are  a few separate yet intertwining story lines occurring in “Manchester by the Sea.” A pivotal relationship is  Lee and Randi’s (Williams) marriage.  At one time, they seemed to have been  happy  with three little ones to fill the house.  It wasn’t a storybook marriage.  It felt real.  And it’s obvious that something horrible happened as the two are now divorced.  Again, flashing back to long segments of memories, these times are captured allowing us to understand why Lee is the way he is.

Manchester by the Sea (screengrab from Exclusive clip)

This is a complicated story of human emotion and how we grieve and deal with guilt yet still have to forge ahead and  live.  To what extent is the question.  Finding the right cast to bring such core feelings to life is of utmost importance and Lonergan’s choices are stellar.  Affleck’s performance is one of the most subtle and powerful portrayals of such a rich character that you could imagine.  Every movement, gesture, and slight facial expression paints a thousand words.  Never before have I experienced such sympathy and occasionally empathy with a character on the screen.  It’s one of the most skilled and nuanced performances this year.  Williams, although not on screen a significant amount of time, has such as an evocative execution of her very important character.  Her interactions and verbal exchanges pack a powerful punch as we see what she is and has been experiencing.  Hedges rounds out this ensemble cast with an equally skilled performance.  He’s reactive and in tune with not only his surroundings and his role, but also with his cast members.  You may not recognize this young talent, but I guarantee, you will.  Chandler is ever the cornerstone of any film, bringing to the screen a genuine portrayal of a man and father just living his life with all its ups and downs.  This cast, the directing, and the powerful script gives us a sense of reality in lives we truly grow to care about.  At times, it’s gut-wrenching, and at others it’s heartbreaking and even occasionally comical, but it is always so very genuine and real.


“Manchester by the Sea” is a masterpiece of art, conveying such depth of character and story as it touches upon our most basic needs, desires, and how we cope.  With complicated characters that typify each of us in some way, this film is a beautiful pallet of human emotion, cutting deep inside our heart and soul.

I fully intend to see a few Oscar nods for this film!  Don’t miss it!

10 REELS out of 10

"Edge of Seventeen"

November 18th, 2016 Posted by Interviews, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Edge of Seventeen"”



Do you remember what it was like to be 17? As your memories come flooding back, you probably wouldn’t go back to being a teen in high school for any amount of money!


However, the new film “The Edge of Seventeen,” starring Hailee Steinfeld as Nadine, brings you back to that mindset in the current day setting. Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, this coming-of-age movie is deightful and insightful.


Steinfeld was adamant about the fact that this is not a teen movie, but a coming-of-age film.

While Nadine thinks she has the answers to everything in life, she realizes “that she absolutely does not [and then] realizes that’s OK,” Steinfeld said. “She has this strength, this underlying strength that really comes through, that I think every young woman has.”

“What makes this film universal is the fact that forms of communication change, but relationships don’t. I think growing up doesn’t change,” Steinfeld added.

READ THE ARTICLE IN ITS ENTIRETY HERE as it was printed in the Friday, November 18th edition of The Daily Journal

Fete Lifestyle Magazine covers TIFF 2016 by Pamela Powell

September 20th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Fete Lifestyle Magazine covers TIFF 2016 by Pamela Powell”


“The  41st Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was a dazzling star-studded event with famous actors and an endless number of films, presentations, and parties. This charming city bursts at the seams with action, glamour, live music performances, outdoor dining, and more than 500 films and events to attend.  Unlike other industry insider festivals, here all are welcome to dine, listen to jazz, and see a few films.  TIFF is the place to see and be seen without all the pretension of Hollywood.  But in true Hollywood style, the red carpet action sizzles as onlookers get to see some of their favorite stars looking their absolute best.

To read the article in its entirety, go to FETE LIFESTYLE MAGAZINE

To listen to the interview with Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis, go here


"Where We're Meant To Be" A True Example of an Indie Film by Pamela Powell

September 20th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Where We're Meant To Be" A True Example of an Indie Film by Pamela Powell”



When you think independent film, you envision a creative filmmaker scraping together funding, asking friends to borrow homes or other settings for a day of filming, and even enlisting talented friends who might know sound engineering or those that can act.  I think this wonderfully written and well-executed production just might fit this rather romanticized version of an indie film.  Shot in North Carolina over a 23 day period for a mere $25,000, Michael Howard brought his words from the page to full living color with the help of talented individuals who believed in his project.  With the cooperation of the town to use churches, warehouses, and even the police department to shut down streets and use squad cars, Howard shows us that you don’t need a multimillion dollar budget to have a quality production.

“Where We’re Meant To Be” is a series of several vignettes which all overlap in seemingly random ways.  It is this coordinated “randomness” that brings to the forefront of our thoughts how meaningful those smallest of moments in life just might be.  As we find ourselves watching Charlie (Blayne Weaver) and Anna (Tate Hanyok) interact on a blind date, their journey sets the ball in motion, if you will.  Their actions reverberate like ripples in the ocean, setting the scene for the next story.   The domino effect of actions continues to stitch together several more stories revolving around death, God, happiness, murder, and even a first sexual experience.  All of these lives are intertwined, sometimes marginally, but always beautifully and powerfully to send home the message that our actions have a lasting impact.

The stories are all very poignant, but the two that stand out, because of the incredible acting, are the blind date and the kidnapping.  Weaver (“Favor”) and Hanyok (“Shameless”) portray that natural chemistry and awkwardness of a blind date that’s going quite well.  Their cowwmtb-film-shot6mmunication, both verbally and non-verbally, brings you to the table to experience their thoughts and feelings, always with a smile on your face.  It would be easy to listen to the two talk for hours as we learn about their lives and their older and wiser take on what the future holds.  The film then takes a darker turn as we witness a kidnapping and crime with an undercover cop.  It’s a brutal and harsh scene that will quite literally take your breath away.  Howard takes on the role of John, revealing that this talented filmmaker is comfortable both behind and in front of the camera.

While there are some pacing issues, particularly as the sister deals with the guilt and aftermath of her brother awwmtb-film-shot3nd nephew dying,  the heftiness of the topic may deserve the time allotted.  The musical score in this film augments the stories perfectly, creating hopefulness as well as emphasizing some of the more dire situations.  Overall, this film allows you to not only see the value in your actions and your words, but in the serendipitous nature of all the positive things in our world.

“Where We’re Meant To Be” is a thoughtful, beautiful film full of love and emotion.  Creating such a philosophical and entertaining film on this budget should be lauded as a true accomplishment.  Be sure to catch this film…it might just change how you see the world.






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