Posts in Weekly VOD

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

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

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


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

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

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

“Funny Tweets” is available to stream on-line via iTunes

3.5/4 STARS

“Social Animals” An Instagram story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

For more information about the film and director, go to


You can see “Social Animals” on iTunes:    or on Amazon:

“Maynard” Depicts a great American leader and first Black mayor of Atlanta

July 25th, 2018 Posted by Review, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on ““Maynard” Depicts a great American leader and first Black mayor of Atlanta”

Samuel D. Pollard writes and directs “Maynard” depicting the extraordinary life of Maynard Jackson, Jr., Atlanta’s first Black mayor in 1973. With touching current personal interviews with friends, family, and colleagues, as well as documented archival footage, we understand this courageous man who was called upon to help set the foundation for racial equality in the South. Once again, thanks to the focused lens of filmmaking, we see our American history more clearly.

Maynard Jackson was bound for brilliance and service from the moment he was born and his grandfather, civil rights leader John Wesley Dobbs knew it as he presented the newborn with the gift of a watch saying, “Time is important and he must know that.” In Jackson’s relatively short life, he created a more level ground upon which corporate Atlanta must play. While he struggled, ironically so, with time management, he utilized his charisma and intelligence to become involved in the political arena, gaining the respect of the people, both Black and white.

Finding his footing was no easy task as he initially struggled in law school at the age of 18. Thanks to the recognition of one professor, Jackson received the guidance he needed in order to find his path in life. Graduating with a law degree several years later at a different institution, Jackson plunged, at first unsuccessfully, into politics. His failure didn’t dissuade him; it only fueled his knowledge and honed his abilities to find the right course.

The film creates a beautiful linear story as it weaves together interviews from his children, his ex-wife, and his widow, as well as prominent figures such as President Bill Clinton, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton. He was truly a “game changer” knowing how to unify and integrate people through intellect and common sense. He’s called the Father of Affirmative Action for a reason and the story is simply brilliant as to how he finds a way to do this. With impeccable integrity, Jackson brought Atlanta to a high point only to see one of the most scarring issues occur under his watchful eye: “The Atlanta Child Murders.” It was a grave time for the community and his response was criticized by many. The use of archival photos and newspaper clippings brought us into Jackson’s mind and heavy heart as he attempted to find the perpetrator. These difficult issues were balanced by giving us humor in the film as we learned about his love of food and how he spent time with his children. Of course, things are never all roses and this was true with his marriage as he divorced and remarried, but he never lost sight of being there for his children even when they clashed.

“Maynard” creates a realistic impression of this great man, communicating his flaws as well as his accomplishments. This approach allows the viewer to more fully understand and appreciate what he did, particularly during such racially volatile times in the Southern states. Perhaps Maynard Jackson continued to pave the road that Dr. Martin Luther King started, creating a less hostile environment for future Black and minority leaders. The respect and articulate lessons he provided in the short time he was here made a difference and we can certainly learn from him now.

“Maynard” is available on all digital platforms such as iTunes. Follow the film on Twitter at:, Facebook at or go to the website for more information.

“Most Likely to Murder” An interview with writer/director Dan Gregor and star Adam Pally

April 29th, 2018 Posted by Interviews, Weekly DVD, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on ““Most Likely to Murder” An interview with writer/director Dan Gregor and star Adam Pally”

Dan Gregor co-writes with Doug Mand and directs this thrilling murder mystery comedy starring Adam Pally (“The Mindy Project”), Rachel Bloom (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) and Vincent Kartheiser (“Mad Men”).   Billy (Pally) goes home one last time before his parents move and is confronted with the memories and actions of his past.  Never having really grown up, he attempts to pick up where he left off ten years ago, but then finds himself in a world where he thinks a boy he picked on in school has murdered his mother.  The film is brilliantly funny yet somehow manages to delve into a rather poignant topic toward the end without ever losing the pace and sense of being a comedy.  I had the pleasure of talking with both Gregor and Pally about making this film.  You’ll be shocked by the genesis of the film, the candid childhood memories shared,  as well as the extortion that took place!

Pamela Powell (PP):  Before we talk about the film, Dan can you tell me about your background and the differences between writing for television and for movies?

Dan Gregor (DG):  I started writing TV at ‘How I Met Your Mother’ …  In some ways, a story is a story.  It’s about setting a problem and the rising action to fix it and the resolution… In that regard, going to movies has always felt very organic; it’s a similar muscle.  Obviously the big difference is trying to find something that really ends the sentence that gives real closure to the ideas … My writing partner Doug Mand and myself, whenever we’re breaking a story, we won’t even start writing a script until we know that we have an ending that gives it a really exciting conclusion.  Having something that feels like a third act that people are going to be engaged with, we always feel like [that’s] lacking in mainstream comedies.  You might like the first 45 minutes, but after that it’s like let’s wrap this up because I know where it’s going.  That’s the biggest difference in going into movie writing is that the third act is genuinely engaging and exciting and hopefully a little unexpected

PP:  I loved the movie!  You had me engaged the entire time and the ending was totally unexpected.  With as many movies as I see each year, that’s a tough thing to do!

DG:  Thank you.  That’s the highest praise I could get.

Adam Pally (AP):  Yes, truly the highest praise. 

DG:  I didn’t get a lot of praise from my parents growing up.  (Laughs)

PP: So how did you come up with the premise of this film?

DG:  The real beginning of the movie happened because  when I was 13 I had scrambled “Skinemax” porn in my bedroom and I would stay up all night. I would basically wait till I thought there was  a sex scene going on and then I would sprint on my tippee toes quietly to the family room that had the actual cable box and I would throw in a VHS tape and try to record the sex scene.  But I was always too late so I had this  really weird tape of the last 5 seconds of sex scenes.  (Laughs)  It’s this very weird montage.  And eventually I grew out of this phase of my life and I had the tape hidden in the back of my closet.  As an adult, I went back to my parents’ house and I stumbled across it and I was like,  ‘Oh, my God!  I can’t believe this thing still exists!’ and I was sort of desperate to watch it again, but I literally couldn’t find a VHS player.  As much as it’s ridiculous, that sort of emotion of having this piece of nostalgia that you are desperate to hold on to, but you can’t. [That] was the emotional starting place of movie.  Doug, my writing partner and I have always been obsessed with ‘coming home for the holiday’ movies in general, but also very specifically Thanksgiving weekend and the night before Thanksgiving where everyone’s back in their home town and you’re going to a local bar and you’re getting drunk and reliving past memories.  That sort of feeling that you desperately want to be in the past but you never can be again.  That was the genesis of … the movie.  Once we knew we wanted to do that, we then challenged ourselves to find a way to tell that in a [more] engaging way than white guy comes home and realizes he’s old. 

PP:  Adam, I’ve seen your two previous films, “Joshy” and “Band Aid,” two very different films from this one as are your characters.  Is there a commonality among these characters that you see as you play them?

AP:  Any character I play is a version of myself.  That’s the only way I know how to do something is to say, what part of me would be this person?  And then embrace that  and put a full spin on it.  I think they are three very different characters, but they’re all versions of myself.  I can see myself ending up like all three people with one right or left turn.  I think if I have any sort of process, it’s that. 

PP:  Some of Adam’s lines are remarkably memorable and offensively hilarious!  Dan, can you tell me about creating this?

DG:  I think that’s the fun part about writing.  By the time you’re seeing a movie, this, from concept to script, to revision to edit to improv, you’re seeing the 100th version of the movie … this movie was always written for Adam… and so even when we were writing the movie we were still checking with Adam…and also we’ve been working with Adam since we were 20 so we feel his voice pretty well.  And truly, Adam is one of the best improvisers in the world.  We have some spectacular lines in the movie that are completely improved from Adam.  

PP:  Adam, do you have a favorite line or improv situation?

AP:  The movie is written so well that it was fun to deliver the scripted lines.  You know what was really funny … is when I first curse in front of my parents.  I know that when you’re a kid, you see that other kid curse…

DG:  You go to that other kid’s house and go wait a minute, this kid is allowed to curse?  Not only in front of his parents, but at them? 

AP:  When you first see that in the movie, it gets a lot of laughs and I think that’s one of my favorite parts. 

DG:  And Adam gave it such a juvenile read, that is what I loved about it.  He’s such an angst-y teen about it.  My favorite Adam improve line, to brag about Adam, is toward the end of the movie, he’s talking about being a restroom attendant in Vegas and saying that he’s sorry that he keeps looking at people’s penises in the bathroom but it’s an accident and he can’t help but glance at a penis when it’s in front of you.

PP:  Are these characters based on any real life people from your past, Dan?

DG:  Every one is an amalgamation of people.  Every one is from my life or Doug’s life. In a very real way the character of Lowell is not a specific someone. [He] is based on the fact that when I was in middle school, I was a shitty kid.  I was not nice to people.  I went to this small private school and I was hot shit in this little school and I was not kind.  And then the next year, I went to this big public school and I instantly had the tables turned.  I was the nerd and I was getting picked on … And I had this realization that, oh, shit!  I was unkind to people and it fucking hurt.  That regret and that realization is the emotional cornerstone of the movie and the underlying ethos of the Lowell character.

PP:  Did you have any bumps in the road or was it smooth sailing?

AP:  We were extorted by the local town.

PP:  (Laughs)

DG:  Seriously … we moved to the actual suburbs where we shot the whole movie … this little town had a racket.  We found out afterwards where they let people sign up for film permits and then when it’s in the 11th hour they tripled the price.  Our amazing producer Petra Ahmann didn’t tell me what was going on because she didn’t want to mess in my head while I was filming and just snuck off to the local municipality courthouse.   Honestly, I have no idea what she did to spin them back.

AP:  Could have been a double extortion.

DG:  She somehow finagled them to let us get back to our original permit price, but the thing we did have to do is  we lost all of our night shoots.  So we had to change the entire closing sequence from a nighttime horror feel to a daytime horror feel.   I actually feel like it was a real gift because it gave that whole finale a much different look than maybe was the obvious choice.

PP:  I have to ask the next obvious question.  What town?

DG:  I’m happy to burn them.  Eastchester, NY.  It’s just the horror of making a low budget movie is that your every dollar really can mess you up pretty bad. 

“Most Likely to Murder,” a thrillingly comedic film, is available on DVD and various digital platforms on May 1.  Check out the trailer here: MOST LIKELY TO MURDER 



“Borg vs. McEnroe” is pure love of the game and the era

April 15th, 2018 Posted by Review, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on ““Borg vs. McEnroe” is pure love of the game and the era”

Tennis fans, rejoice!  Last year’s under-appreciated “Battle of the Sexes” has opened the doors for another undeniably entertaining biopic revolving around tennis—“Borg vs. McEnroe.”  The film, written by Ronnie Sandahl and starring Sverirr Gudnason, Shia LaBeouf, and Stellan Skarsgard, takes you back in time to the intense rivalry between two polar opposite tennis stars, the hot-headed John McEnroe and the even-keeled Nordic legend, Bjorn Borg.  The intensity spills over into the storyline, learning about these larger-than-life players and witnessing what might be the most dramatic competition in any sport.

We meet each of these players at the height of their game, but are quickly brought back to their respective childhoods, gaining keen insight to their background, difficulties, and family relationships.  The film focuses more upon the young Borg, his parents’ lack of financial wealth, and the boy’s inability to control his temper, allowing you to draw the conclusion that perhaps Borg and McEnroe really aren’t that different.  McEnroe has his own demons to wrestle from his youth, all of which he confronts as the day draws nearer to battling Borg at Wimbledon.  Never has a championship  been seen from the psychological aspect, delving into the pressures they each feel from their perspective.  McEnroe, cocky and boisterous, must defeat a 4 time champion.  And Borg, rumored to be getting old, must defend his title for the 5th time—something no one had ever done at that time.  While most of us will never be the best in one particular arena, this film gets us very close to understanding the sacrifices and the mindset it takes to do so.

Sverirr embodies Borg not just physically, but with his mannerisms and speech as well.  His head hangs in introspection with his shoulders slouching, only to gain confidence and composure once he steps onto the courts.  His long hair, cool demeanor, and chilling intensity is the very center of the real Borg, making his performance to be at once believable and real.  LaBeouf’s career seems to have stalled, but his portrayal of McEnroe is stellar.  While he isn’t McEnroe’s body double, he perfects the tennis champion’s speech and physical outbursts the player is known for.  As the story depicts Borg disproportionately, we also see Borg’s coach, Lennert Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgard), step into his life as more of a father figure with tough love and life lessons to teach.  Together, a complete picture is painted to more fully understand who Bjorn Borg is and how he became the most revered player of the decade.

As the story unfolds, editing is key with this film as we jump back and forth between childhood memories, current day situations, and recent events.  Capturing this to tell the story along a timeline that makes sense is a difficult feat that “Borg vs. McEnroe” achieves.  Incredible camera work to recreate the matches brings you directly into the stands as you hold your breath with every serve and missed call.  You know the outcome, yet you’re still on the edge of your seat wondering what’s going to truly happen.

“Borg vs. McEnroe” is a sheer delight to watch, particularly if you’re a fan of tennis and that era.  Sverirr, LaBeouf, and Skarsgard expertly portray each of their characters, bringing a sense of reality and connection to the story.

You can see “Borg vs. McEnroe” in theaters and select digital platforms such as Amazon.

3 1/2 Stars

“I Kill Giants” In theaters and VOD Friday, March 23

March 21st, 2018 Posted by Review, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on ““I Kill Giants” In theaters and VOD Friday, March 23”

The action graphic novel “I Kill Giants” by J.M. Ken Niimura comes to life on the big screen starring Madison Wolfe as Barbara, the slayer of giants. Barbara is an outcast in her school, exhibiting bizarre behaviors brought about by her tumultuous home life. The story creates a portrayal of a teen’s inner and symbolic demons as she attempts to control both, coping with her inevitable future. While the pace of the story is meandering and slow at times, the payoff is worth the wait with its emotionally beautiful ending.

Three siblings, seemingly fending for themselves, live in a beautiful home along the coast. Karen (Imogen Poots), the eldest, takes on the role of mother as she works and cares for her younger brother and sister. Barbara rebels against her siblings and takes herself into the world of monsters and giants. It is here that reality and imagination blend together as we question the difference between the two. Bringing her back to reality and grounding Barbara is her new and only friend, a new girl in town, Sophia (Sydney Wade).  Attempting to  understand Barbara while navigating the angst of middle school, Sophia’s kindness is pushed to the brink.  Barbara’s inner monsters must first be addressed before she can find a way to sort through her own reality.

Wolfe carries this film as she portrays a character who lashes out, wielding her words like a sword.  She is, on the surface, weird and  insensitive, yet in her mind she is there to save the town from certain demise from the Giants. This is Barbara’s story and we are submerged in her world, trying to understand what she is truly grappling with. It isn’t until the final 30 minutes of the film that there is that long-awaited crescendo connecting us to this little girl. The supporting cast is just that, supporting. The adults in the film are integral to Barbara’s character and emotional growth, but the adult characters are never really developed. The story unfolds from Barbara’s point of view, but it also accentuates the importance of a consistent and caring adult in a child’s life and the impact upon her resiliency.  The consistent adult in this story is the counselor, Mrs. Molle (Zoe Saldana).

“I Kill Giants” is gorgeously shot, melding together the world of reality and make believe in magical ways. For those who have not read the graphic novel, it comes as no surprise  that this would be the inspiration, given the intensity and vivid images. Barbara’s imagination is brought into full focus, allowing the viewer to be a part of her fears and powers or lack thereof. In many ways, this film is reminiscent of J.A. Bayona’s “A Monster Calls” as it tackles adult issues thrust upon a child and the use of imagination as a coping mechanism.

“I Kill Giants” is a vibrant and bold depiction of a young teen’s imagination as she grapples with toxic stress. The film reminds us that knocking down the walls to truly understand a child who seems a bit odd is worth the time and patience.

3/4 Stars

"Kate Can’t Swim" A Standout at Slamdance by Pamela Powell

January 12th, 2018 Posted by Review, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “"Kate Can’t Swim" A Standout at Slamdance by Pamela Powell”


“Kate Can’t Swim” premiered at the 2017 Slamdance Film Festival and will be available on VOD on January 23, 2018.  The film is co-written by Josh Helman and Jennifer Allcott.  Helman also directs and stars alongside Allcott, Celeste Arias, and Grayson DeJesus.  This first-time director and writing pair gives us a striking, complex and provocative film that typifies relationships and sexuality issues with unapologetic clarity.


Kate (Arias) and Pete (DeJesus) seem the happy, young couple, living a predictable life in NYC.  Em (Allcott) returns from living abroad with her new boyfriend, Nick (Helman).  The two couples travel to a remote area of New York to enjoy a weekend in the country in an effort to get to know Em’s new lifestyle and her new beau.  This peaceful backdrop promises to be anything but idyllic as the two couples plunge into the most terrifying place possible—their minds and emotions—putting into question their own morals, choices, and boundaries.

The two couples seem perfectly happy with one another, but it is these close quarters that bring out the true feelings including resentment, jealousy, and an unexpected love.  The film captures each of these characters’ true selves as they discover their own reflection.  Kate struggles with what she sees and how she feels, not quite understanding it herself.  The pressures of expectations Kate feels along with the complexities of sexuality and attraction are peeled away, allowing the viewer to see things from a new perspective.  As Pete, Em, and Nick see her true self, confronting her, it becomes more than she can handle.  Her response leaves the viewer breathless.

“Kate Can’t Swim” is a visually striking film that cinematically captures the atmosphere even when the story and the environment are in complete opposition.  Cinematographer Tommy Agriodimas brings you into the cabin, making you the 5th guest.    Helman and Allcott’s  script is powerful and succinct with tight dialogue and pacing that runs parallel to the emotion of the scene.

The story tackles the concept of love, sexuality, fear of the future, relationships of many types, and expectations within our society as well as within ourselves which sounds like a lot, but it is never overwhelming.  With the story-line focused upon Kate, the supporting cast adds their own stories, augmenting the main focus beautifully.

The cast is stellar with a natural chemistry between not only the two couples, but between Arias and Allcott.  Their gestures and unforced laughter creates a feeling of truly having grown up together.  Arias has a standout performance, skillfully portraying a very complicated character.  While we may not always agree with her decisions, we understand them and feel her pain and internal conflict. Her character development,  a testament not only to the writing and directing, but to Arias’ skills, unfolds beautifully.  Helman also finds a way to express such subtle nuances in his performance transforming himself with absolute ease from an intimidatingly intelligent man to a thoughtful, caring, and insightful one the next moment.  That unpredictability captures your attention and creates an undeniable tension, pulling you deeper into the muddied waters of relationships and truth.

“Kate Can’t Swim” is a standout film this year.  With skillful direction, creatively honed writing, beautiful cinematography, and an amazing cast, the film is one not to be missed.

For more information about the film, go to

Check out the interview I had with Josh and Jennifer RIGHT HERE


"The Polka King" Dances to the beat of a different drum By Pamela Powell

December 30th, 2017 Posted by Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “"The Polka King" Dances to the beat of a different drum By Pamela Powell”


“Truth is stranger than fiction,” producer David Permut said about the new film “The Polka King” starring Jack Black, Jenny Slate, and Jackie Weaver.  And he’s absolutely correct.  In the 1990’s, a well-meaning, hard-working immigrant from Poland, barely making ends meet, devises an investment scheme that makes him millions.  The problem?  It’s a Ponzi scheme…A Polish Ponzi scheme.  The first of its kind and probably the last.

Jan Lewan (Black), living in Pennsylvania, with his wife (Slate) and astute yet meaner than a junkyard dog mother-in-law (Weaver), wants nothing more than to make a living and play music to Polka lovers everywhere.  The cost of doing this is greater than he can afford and more than his tchotchke gift store can fund.  So he takes on a few investors in his “company,” eventually swindling trusting elderly members of the community out of approximately $5 million.  If he sounds like a low-life criminal, you’d be wrong.  This guy, as Black portrays him which according to the documentary “The Man Who Would Be Polka King,”  is anything but that.  He’s sweet and devoid of malice.  He puts his family first…even that mother-in-law of his.  The film takes us through the years of Lewan’s misdeeds, giving us an absolutely charming and hilarious look at a man who digs a deeper and deeper hole until there’s seemingly no escape.  His escape, however, is even more hysterical!  There is no way anyone could make this stuff up…truth is truly stranger than fiction.

The husband wife team of Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky (“Infinitely Polar Bear”), create and direct one of the most unusual and entertaining comedies of the last few years. There’s not a dull moment in the film as we watch Lewan and his family’s life unfold.  Reportedly, Black, who jumped on this ship before Forbes and Wolodarsky had a single word written, had a hand in bringing Lewan to life on the screen.  This combination of writing talent is the jackpot.

The role of Jan Lewan was made for Black.  After his portrayal of “Bernie” in the film of the same name, Black seems to have a knack for playing unassuming criminals with no malice.  His sense of comedic timing and physical comedy augments his situations with sublime simplicity.  Slate finds a certain rhythm in her role as Lewan’s focused wife, making this odd couple one of the most unusual and entertaining duos to hit the screen.  It’s difficult to think that anyone could be more well-suited to a role than Black as Lewan, but Weaver is simply stellar.  She embodies the all-knowing, suspicious, Mrs. Kravitz-gone-bad relative, never trusting that son-in-law.  She’s scary and hilarious all wrapped into one.

Jackie Weaver at Sundance

“The Polka King” is 95 minutes of complete entertainment, full of unexpected twists in turns that only real life could provide.  It’s a roller coaster of a ride that you don’t want to end that somehow creates sympathy for a sweet man who happens to be a swindler as well.  When you’re not laughing, your jaw is dropped as you just can’t believe what you’re seeing.  And seeing is believing as this is a true story; albeit one that has the comedic genius of Jack Black behind it.

For more about this film, go to an interview with producer David Permut

Check out the trailer of the documentary of Jan Lewan here:

‘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:

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

"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

"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”



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

For more information about Jambios, go to


"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.


To watch the first episode, go to  FUNNY OR DIE

For information about how deforestation affects climate change, go to

"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”




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.


“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.


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”



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”



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.


“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’”



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.


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.”


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”



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.”

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-8-54-08-am screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-8-53-53-am screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-8-53-21-am

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:

"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”



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.


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”



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.


“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.



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

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







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