Autumn Scene Spotlight: When Harry Met Sally

I love, love, love the Fall season!

Though I was born and spent the first half of my life in a tropical country, I’ve always preferred a cooler climate. I truly can’t imagine not having the four seasons… I don’t even mind snow, as long as it’s not the debilitating kind that wreck havoc on traffic and stuff. But let’s not think about that yet… for right now I’m basking in perhaps the most perfect Autumn ever! For the next 10 days, we’ll have a stretch of rain-free sunny days with temps in the mid 70s. WOW, it just doesn’t get any better than that!!

Well, this weekend I’ll be meeting up with some friends at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum to check out the gorgeous Fall colors. It got me thinking about Autumn scenes in movies and the first thing that come to mind is this one from When Harry Met Sally.

Before Friends with Benefits, No Strings Attached and a slew of others with ‘can men/women be friends without sex’ theme, we’ve got this classic rom-com. It’s one of those movies I’d watch when it comes on TV, and in fact, when I was staying at the Westin San Francis across from Union Square, this movie was playing right on the square so I could practically watch it from my window. Too bad I couldn’t really hear the dialog as this movie has lots of memorable ones.

Nora Ephron wrote the screenplay for Rob Reiner and I thought is pretty brilliant. There are lots of memorable scenes too, I mean who could forget the ‘fake orgasm’ scene at the diner? Billy Crystal & Meg Ryan have this effortless chemistry between them that make their relationship so believable. This conversation in this scene always makes me laugh, but sometimes I’m just lost in the enchanting beauty of the Autumn setting with those gorgeous colors of the leaves surrounding them.


Have you seen this movie? Feel free to share your own favorite Autumn movie scene(s).

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Top Three Posters of the Week: The Deep Blue Sea, Iron Lady, Another Happy Day

Happy almost-Friday, everybody. Feels like it’s been ages since I’ve done a poster post, and my weekly visit to IMPAWARDS site is long overdue.

Well, here are three that caught my eye …

The wife of a British Judge is caught in a self-destructive love affair with a Royal Air Force pilot.

Please, don’t get this one confused with the shark thriller starring Samuel L. Jackson, ahah. I presume nobody gets eaten by the big fish in this one :D

I’m usually not into films that seems to glorify marital infidelity, though there are some beautifully-filmed ones that I have come to appreciate in the past. One thing that came to mind right away as I saw this poster is The English Patient, which also stars two talented Brits Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas. In fact, the film still below seems to be directly inspired by the one in the Oscar-winning film. Don’t you agree?

Anyway, I think this poster is quite sensuous and romantic, there’s that euphoric look on Rachel’s face, what’s Tom doing to her, ahah. I quite like Tom ever since I saw his fine performance in Thor and Rachel is always lovely. But because of the subject matter, I most likely just rent this one if I’m feeling up to it.

A look at the life of Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, with a focus on the price she paid for power.

Wow, is there anything Meryl can’t do?? She just keeps one upping herself year after year. She’s got to be the go-to actress for any biography of middle-aged famous characters, she satirized Vogue’s editor Anna Wintour perfectly in The Devil’s Wear Prada and phenomenally-portrayed Julia Child in Julie & Julia. This time she’s tackling one of the world’s most famous leaders and from just seeing the photo and the trailer, she not just nails the look but the accent as well. There ought to be a documentary on her life called ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’ which I’m sure will be more bearable to watch than the Sarah Jessica Parker’s rom-com. Anyway, I think the poster is pretty clever, though it’s the striking resemblance between Meryl and Margaret that grabbed my attention.

A wedding at her parents’ Annapolis estate hurls high-strung Lynn into the center of touchy family dynamics.

Simple design with tons of negative space often stands out amidst a mostly-busy layout of movie posters. Is that supposed to be a gold ring around the silhouetted guy or an inflatable swim bubble?? I’m curious enough to make me find out what it’s about. The IMDb description doesn’t really explain much, but I’m intrigued by the cast. I haven’t seen Ellen Barkin since one of those Ocean movies. I might rent this one once it arrives on DVD.


What do you think of these posters? What movie poster(s) caught your eye this week?

The Flix List: Four Best Film ‘Making-Of’ Documentaries

As a film lover and also a filmmaker wannabe, I love watching behind scenes stuff. It’s probably the closest thing for anyone to see what’s it like to be part of a film crew. Spike Lee once said in an interview, ‘had DVD existed when he was younger, he probably would never attended film school.’ He said you can learn so much from these behind the scenes documentaries that he recommended any film students to watch as much of them as possible.

My list contains the most in-depth look at how films were made and they’re at least 2 hours long, so you need to set some free time aside if you want to watch them. I’ll highlight the best part of each documentary.

1. The Making of Alien 3

This is probably the Holy Grail of behind the scenes docs, for years Fox kept it secret from the public because they didn’t want anyone to know what went on behind the scenes while Alien 3 was being filmed. The film was a box office disaster for them back in the early 90s and it almost destroyed David Fincher’s career.

You can find this documentary on the DVD version of Alien 3 or Blu-ray. I recommend you get the Blu-ray version because on the DVD, Fox edited out some of the segments where Fincher was bad mouthing their executives, while the Blu-ray version was uncut. It’s probably my favorite behind the scenes docs I’ve ever seen. They interviewed everyone who was involved in the project except Fincher, he disowned the film. Fox even invited him to come back and tell his side of the story but he refused since he didn’t want to re-live those ugly moments of his career.

Now if don’t have time to watch this documentary, you can read my earlier article of what went on behind the scenes of Alien 3.

2. The Making of Star Wars (Episode 4-6)

I assume if you’re a big Star Wars fan you’ve probably already seen the making of these films. Again I thought this was one of the best behind the scenes docs ever made, some of the highlights include:

  • Believe it or not, most of the Fox executives wanted to shut down the film because George Lucas was behind schedule. The film was set to come out in Christmas of 1976 but Lucas and his crew couldn’t finish it on time. Luckily for Lucas and film lovers everywhere, the president of Fox studios at the time was on Lucas’ side and told him to keep going and finish the film. Of course the rest is history but just think about how we came that close to never have seen a Star Wars film.
  • George Lucas had a heart attack during the shoot and he was only about 32 or 33 years old! He was so stressed out that Harrison Ford and the rest of the cast members tried to cheer him up every time they’re done shooting a scene. Lucas was constantly being pressured by the studio to finish the film and also had to deal with the harsh conditions of shooting in the desert.

    You can see some more behind-the-scenes pictures here.
  • The special effects team had to come up with new ways to shoot the space ships battle sequences. One of them said since there didn’t have stores like Best Buy, Dell or Apple back in those days, they had to build their own computers. Lucas hired a lot people right out of college, many of them graduated from MIT or Cal Tech.

Those are some of the good stuff you’ll see in the documentary, so if you have some free time I highly recommend you watch it.

3. The Making of The Lord of The Rings Trilogy

Another great in-depth look at how these mega budget films were made. You can find these documentaries on the DVD Extended Editions or Blu-ray. Some of the highlights were:

  • You get to see how Peter Jackson and his crew working together on the script and finding the cast for each roles in the films.

    Peter Jackson directing Viggo Mortensen

  • Jackson directed hundreds of people during the big battle in The Return of The King.
  • You can see how Gollum was created by the geniuses at Weta Digital.
  • My favorite part of the doc is when they showed Howard Shores score the films. I love the music of The Lord of the Rings films so to have seen how they created the music was so amazing. Below is one of the five-part video of the scoring process you can find on YouTube:

4. The Making of The Social Network

Another of David Fincher’s film made the list, only this time he was a willing participant. The Social Network was my favorite movie of last year and I thought for sure Fincher would finally win an Oscar for directing but he didn’t. Hopefully he’ll get the golden statue someday. This is probably the shortest documentary on the list but it was still an in dept look at how the film was made. Film students everywhere, I urge you to watch it. Here are some of the highlights you’ll see on the disc:

  • Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin had a couple of heated discussions about the motivations of certain characters in the film. They mostly fought about the relationship of Zuckerberg and his former best friend Eduardo Severin.

  • You’ll see Fincher directing his cast, it’s quite amazing to see how he listened to his actors and didn’t act like a dictator on the movie set. Usually a director of his status tends to be quite a mad man on the set and would tell his actors to do what he says or they’re fired.
  • The special effects crew showed how they placed Armie Hammer’s face over Josh Pence’s so they could be appear to be twins in the film.
  • Justin Timberlake talked about how he prepared to play the role of Sean Parker, even though he’d never met Sean Parker in person.

Well those are what I considered the best making of documentaries, have you seen any of them? Feel free to add any other documentaries that you have seen.

TCFF Final Day: Stan Lee Doc & Closing Thoughts

The TCFF concluded its 6-day film festival with a wonderful family event Parade of Superheroes where kids get to dress up as their favorite superheroes, which is a great tie-in to the Stan Lee documentary playing mid afternoon.

In the last six days, I saw a total of eight films and attended four panels. I got to interview a pair of Hollywood young talents Drake Doremus & Anton Yelchin, as well as seeing an awesome character actor Tom Sizemore in person! I also got to talk to amazing people and make new friends with fellow bloggers Mitch, June and Matt.

On Sunday, I was able to attend the Women and Filmmaking panel right after church. Minnesota Women in Film and Television Board Member Meighan McGuire mediated a panel of three women filmmakers, Elise Plakke (director of 14 Minutes shorts), Barbara Allen (director of Signing On documentary), Tracie Laymon (on of Girls Girls Girls directors).

From left: Megan, me, Tracy, June, Barbara & Elise

It was an insightful panel as each woman discuss their journey to make their films and the challenges/breakthroughs they made along the way. During the Q&A, I asked them what they think of the state of women filmmakers in Hollywood today as I personally feel there should be more of them in the movie biz. Megan responded that sometimes life choices could be a factor in getting a female filmmaker established, for example if they get married or have kids, they might have to dip out of the business which may affect their career. Elise however thinks that women filmmakers are on the up swing today with easier access to technology and perhaps wider acceptance in the industry. After that question, one of TCFF Board of Directors Bill Cooper shared that the percentage of films made by women shown at TCFF this year is 26%, I sure hope that number will continue to rise in the coming years.

The last film I saw was…

With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story

I’m a huge fan of superhero movies, so as I said in this post, this is the one doc I was looking forward to the most.

It’s snappy documentary about the life of the world’s greatest comic-book creator, done in a lively style as fascinating as Stan Lee himself. Born Stanley Martin Lieber of Romanian-Jewish immigrants, he split his first name into two to save his real name for when his dream career of being a novelist. Using archival photos and panels from various time period, the filmmakers showed his journey from growing up in the Great Depression, joining the Army during WWII (he was categorized as “playwright,”), and how he ended up working in the comic industry. It was at Timely Comics when he met Jack Kirby who ended up illustrating most of his comic creations. It’s clear Stan Lee admired Jack very much, as he numerously paid tribute to him and credit him for being one of his greatest influence.

Stan & Joan Lee – then and now

The documentary also include interviews from various directors and actors who have brought his Marvel characters to life. My favorite part is the segments about Lee’s longtime wife Joan (they’ve been married for over six decades), and to this day they have such a healthy and warm relationship. Apparently, it was Joan who urged him to do one last comic book that Stan has always wanted to do during the slowest period of the comic business, which was supposed to be his last one before he has to explore other career options. The result is Fantastic Four, which ended up being really successful. That comics then propel Stan to create more characters such as Spider-Man and X-Men.

Stan Lee’s characters resonated with people as they had real problems and angst that people can relate to. X-Men for example, deal with a message for tolerance for outcasts, real-life themes that are still pertinent to this day that elevate the comic-book stories to be more than simply entertainment.

I really admire Stan Lee so I really enjoy this documentary. Yes it can be seen as a ‘praise fest’ to some but that is fine by me, I think he deserves it and he was humble enough to give credits where it’s due. I highly recommend this documentary to anyone who appreciates comics and/or comic-book movies.

Click to see who won awards at TCFF

It’s definitely been a blast covering the film fest. It’s much bigger and better this year with the addition of the gaming initiatives, panel additions and a lineup of 70+ films, which is impressive considering its only our second year! I know it’ll only get better from here!

Congratulations to Jatin Setia and co. for another amazing year at TCFF! It was truly a feat to transform your vision into reality. Of course it helps to have such a great staff alongside you: Bill Cooper, Naomi Dahlgren, Amanda Day, John Mellesmoen, and the rest of the staff. I also want to thank lead programmer Steve Snyder for selecting such wonderful movies and Katie Stroup from Allied Integrated Marketing for inviting me to the Like Crazy interview.

Great job everyone, I’m sure you all deserve the much-needed sleep by now!


Thanks everyone who’ve stayed with me throughout my TCFF coverage. I really appreciate your comments on my reviews, posts, etc. I hope one day you get to experience a film festival on your own, whether a local or international one. It definitely makes me appreciate films more as I get insights into how they get made.

Long live cinema!

TCFF Day 4 & 5 Recap: Ordinary Family, Machine Gun Preacher, Where Soldiers Come From

The fun TCFF film fiesta continues! I think Day 4 breaks the record for me as far as movie watching. I saw three films in the theater which is the most I have done ever in my life. It’s quite a hectic day for me even though I took a day off from work after working half-days most of the week. It’s also a ‘historic day’ for me as I’ve never done an ‘official’ press interview right after a screening before. Hopefully this is the first of many :D

Well I have summarized the Like Crazy interview and panel yesterday, so I’ll just jump into the other films I saw on Friday and Saturday. This is the beauty of the programs of this year’s TCFF, there is quite an eclectic mix of mainstream/indie and documentary films to satisfy any film fans, and it’s only going to get better!

Ordinary Family

This is one of TCFF lead programmer Steve Snyder‘s recommendations, and y’know what, it did not disappoint. The premise is pretty simple but you could see how it had so much potential for a humorous drama. The Biederman’s annual family reunion starts off rather well with everyone gathering at the table to enjoy a family meal together… that is, until the ‘prodigal son’ Seth suddenly reveals that the male friend he invites along is actually his boyfriend. Everyone seems to handle it quite well except Seth’s brother Thomas, who’s a pastor at the local church where he and Seth used to serve together in their younger days.

At first I had trepidation about how the film will play out, I wonder if they’d make the Christian person to be the ‘villain’ or at least the unsympathetic character, which is often the case in films these days. So it’s quite refreshing to see that it’s not the case here. I think the filmmaker did a pretty decent job in presenting a balanced approach to both sides, even though it doesn’t go in depth into the matters of faith apart from showing the church setting where Thomas serves in a straight-forward manner. I also appreciate of the positive portrayal of marriage as the married couples are shown as loving and supportive despite their occasional difference of opinions.

The film depicts a pretty realistic American family life, at least it appears that way from what I’ve observed having lived in the States for half of my life. Montages of family bonding in various setting as well as the nonstop bickering between various members, especially Thomas and Seth, make up most of the film. There are also equal number of scenes depicting the gay lifestyle and church life and both characters making the effort out of each other’s comfort zone out of their deep love for one another.

In the end though the filmmaker seems content with making a ‘safe’ film that show the best of both sides. That is perhaps intentional, though I’m totally unsure what their position is about homosexuality and matters of faith.

Machine Gun Preacher

This is the film I’ve been waiting for, as those who’ve been reading my blogs already know. Well, I feel like I need to give it a proper review but for now I’m going to say that I totally disagree with the critics’ take on this. 22% on RottenTomatoes?? Wow! But I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, a film with such a strong spiritual Christian message like this is likely to be butchered by the same people who hated The Passion of the Christ (which only garnered 49% on RT). Interestingly, both films have a much higher Audience Rating (both around 80%) so the contrast between the two is quite staggering.

The reaction from the screening seemed positive, some people clapped at the end and most of them stayed in their seats until after the end credits rolled which showed footage of the real preacher. In fact, all of my friends who came to see the film (I went with a group of seven) loved the film and was really moved by the story. A fellow blogger who saw the film also praised it and called it an “… amazing film will want you to stand to your feet and take action as you see through the life of Childers…”

Now I’m not saying the film is without its problems and I did read this article about the real preacher Sam Childers about some of the inaccuracies of the films, particularly in regards to his faith crisis. This isn’t the first time Hollywood isn’t being faithful to the source though, but I think overall Childers’ humanitarian zeal and his deep compassion for the African children came through in the film and Butler did a good job portraying Childers.

I will have my full review of the film later in the week. For now, check out the behind-the-scene featurette from the film:

Where Soldiers Come From

This is the second documentary I was looking forward to see at TCFF and it also came highly-recommended by Steve Snyder.

As I’ve mentioned on this documentary list, director Heather Courtney explored the four-year journey of childhood friends from the Upper Penninsula (U.P.) of Northern Michigan who enrolled in the Army to pay their college tuition and saw how their lives are turned upside down when they get sent to Afghanistan. This doc puts a real personal spin to the effects of war on not just the young soldiers, but also on their families and loved ones in their community. Whatever your position is on the matter, you can’t help being moved by it.

Courtney did a remarkable job in framing their story, presenting each individual (Dominic, Cole & Bodi) in a straightforward journalistic style which is not overly political other than some footage of the election results playing on TV. It mostly shows an intimate look of this group of friends who sign up for the National Guard after they graduate from high school. None of them really have aspiration to be in the military, and didn’t seem to give a lot of thought into what entails in becoming one. It is clear a lot of them have very limited experience of the world they’re about to be thrown into, even during the briefing, the presenter not only know didn’t how to say Hamid Karzai’s name, but didn’t know if he was still the leader of Afghanistan. Once there, the filmmaker also had access to placing her cameras within the barracks and tanks as the young soldiers patrol the rural roads searching for IEDs (improvised explosive device).

The film does feel a bit long and tedious at times, but it really gives me an insight into what it’s like for a lot of families with their children being deployed to war. It’s definitely worth seeing for any documentary fans. It’ll be shown on PBS on November 10, check your local listing.


That’s it for now folks. Thoughts about any of these films are most welcome in the comments.

TCFF Day 4: Like Crazy Interview and Panel Discussion

I’m a bit behind on my TCFF write-up but yesterday was quite a whirlwind. I saw three movies from Noon until 9:30pm, starting with Like Crazy screening at Edina Landmark theater, followed by a family comedy indie Ordinary Family and Machine Gun Preacher practically back to back. Reviews of those two coming next week.

Right after the screening, I went to Cosmos Restaurant in downtown Minneapolis for a roundtable interview with director Drake Doremus and lead actor Anton Yelchin. I was feeling a bit nervous as it’s the first time I was invited as an ‘official’ media to interview Hollywood celebrities. Yelchin might not be a household name yet but he’s been involved in quite a few memorable projects of late (Star Trek, The Beaver, Fright Night). At only 22, he’s one of the brightest young stars today as he continues to seek out diverse and challenging roles.

Like Crazy Interview – 9/23 4 pm

There were only a couple of other interviewers with me (one from TheMovieMash.com and the other from Buzzbo Mpls) so it was quite nice to be able to ask both Drake and Anton more than just one question. I was even able to pose with Anton after the interview :D

WithAntonYelchinTCFF2011

Take a listen of the interview below [Drake is the first one being interviewed]:


Like Crazy is a heart-wrenching and realistic portrayal of young love, which is a love story I don’t see depicted in the movies very often. It’s romantic yes, but it’s not saccharine-sweet or overly bleak, but the whole affair felt almost too real. I like the honesty aspect of it and the two leads did a nice job. Apparently it’s semi-autobiographical as Drake experienced a similar long-distance love struggles when he was in college, even though he claimed the characters are mostly fictional.

Like Crazy Panel 9/24 – Noon 

The panel actually takes place on Day 5 which was earlier today. It was fun to see Drake explained how the casting and film-making process went. Anton also reiterated again how the intensive rehearsal process between him and Felicity Jones were crucial. It only took them about less than a month to shoot with a mere $250,000 budget – which is amazing considering they were filmed in California and London. Drake joked that it all went to Anton’s salary… “… and my huge trailer!” Anton added.

Drake Doremus, Yelchin & moderator Steve Snyder

Drake and Anton seemed to have become good friends since filming this, which makes sense since the two lead actors and the director all spend a huge amount of time together during filming. It’s also interesting to learn the journey of their teeny-tiny film finding a distributor. Drake explained that he showed his film at noon at Sundance and by 6 AM the very next day, Paramount Studios already owned the film! That was before winning Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize which was a real breakthrough for the 28-year-old director.

So what’s next for both?

  • Drake Doremus just wrapped up another drama Breathe In (now screening at MSPIFF, see trailer here) which also stars Felicity Jones with Guy Pearce, Amy Ryan and Kyle MacLachlan. This time, Jones’ love interest is a much older man than in Like Crazy as Guy Pearce is 22 yrs older than Anton! The description on IMDb says it’s a film about love, fidelity, marriage and music. The director said he’s always fascinated by relationships and the dynamic between two people, so I’m looking forward to this!
  • As for Anton Yelchin, he’s just wrapped a mystery thriller based on Dean Koontz’s novel called Odd Thomas due out next year. He’s apparently very excited to be working with Willem Dafoe, he said that he hasn’t been going to a film set with utter giddiness like this in a long time, ahah.

I will post the YouTube video of the panel as it becomes available. Again, I highly recommend Like Crazy, an intimate & sincere look at long distance love story. Those of you who are tired of romantic comedies but aren’t too jaded to watch a film about love, this is your film.


Any fans of Drake or Anton out there? Will you be checking out this film when it comes out near you?

TCFF Day 3: Tom Sizemore shines in comedic role in White Knight

Day 3 starts with a White Knight panel at Double Tree Hotel with special guest Tom Sizemore and his two Mexican co-stars Hector Jimenez and Olga Segura.

The Detroit-born Sizemore is one of Hollywood’s best character actors, more prominently in tough guy roles in films like True Romance, Saving Private Ryan, Natural Born Killers, and Heat, among others. He’s one of those actors who have that sense of danger about him that is authentic, which makes him the perfect go-to-guy for bad ass roles. He’s of course, known also for his troubled personal life, to the point of joining Celebrity Rehab show. Even just a day before he arrived in Twin Cities, he was briefly jailed on a battery warrant.

He seemed to be in a good mood for the panel however, wearing a black Nirvana t-shirt, he was actually pretty chatty. It was a jovial and lively discussion on making the film, how they got into their characters, etc. You can see the video of the panel here and at the TCFF YouTube Channel.

Sizemore also shared some of his experience working with great directors like Michael Mann and Steven Spielberg, whom he had nothing but praise. He called Spielberg the nicest person he’s ever worked with, saying that the director is still grounded despite his success and legendary status. He was also candid when being asked whether he prefers to do studio films or independent ones. Without hesitation he said he’d rather get paid a couple of million dollars doing a small role in a big movie because the pay from those films are what enable him to do small movies like White Knight which offers creative freedom. It sounds like there needs to be a balance of both in any actor’s career.

White Knight Mini Review

The White Knight Cast – Chris McDuffie Photography

White Knight (recently renamed Cellmates) is a comedy about redemption. Like 50/50 which takes a non-laughing-matter subject like cancer and made a comedy out of it, White Knight also deals with a controversial subject matter of racism. The lead character is Leroy Lowe (Sizemore, natch!), a Grand dragon of the Texas Ku Klux Klan who’s serving a three-year sentence and comes out a changed man.

The comedic style of relative newbie director Jesse Baget kind of reminds me of the Coen Brothers, not sure if that’s intentional or not but it certainly had that vibe to me. It’s a simple story that works because of Sizemore’s expressively whimsical portrayal. Leroy is obviously not a likable man by profession but you can’t help but being sympathetic and even like his character. Sizemore shines in this audacious comedic role — his expressive face is as funny as the dialog. Whether he’s in rage, surprised, enamored or even bored to death listening to his warden talks about his beloved potato farm, he’s a joy to watch.

You could say that Sizemore carries the film but Jimenez as his hilarious, frizzy-haired cellmate and Stacy Keach as his potato-lovin’ warden deliver lots of laughs as well. I’m not sure about Segura’s acting however, but she wasn’t really given much to do than throwing a longing look or two at Sizemore’s character. This is her first acting role but on the panel she said she’s in a few upcoming films in the works, also starring fellow cast-member Jimenez.

I really enjoy the film a heck of a lot more than I thought it would be, I’d love to see Sizemore do more comedic roles in the future. I definitely recommend this film to fans of Coens’ comedies and/or Sizemore’s performance.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Are you interested in this film? If you’re a fan of Tom Sizemore, what’s your favorite role of his?

TCFF Day 2: A conversation with lead programmer Steve Snyder

Last week I was reading some of the bios of the programmers for TIFF and I’ve always thought it’d be great to get some insights into what it’s like to be the one in charge of selecting films for a film fest. Well, the lead programmer of TCFF, Steve Snyder, who’s also a TIME magazine editor, was kind enough to grant me an interview via the phone.

Just a bit of background on Steve. He is originally from Minnesota and attended University of Minnesota where he wrote for the MNDaily, UofM’s student-produced newspaper. He then finished his graduate degree in Journalism in Columbia. He held various writing stints in a number of publications in MN, as well as serving as a judge for various film festivals. He’s been with TIME magazine since 2006 and is currently serving as its editor.

Over the course of 45 minutes, we talked about everything from how he got involved with TCFF from its initial idea back in 2007 to his love for Stanley Kubrick ever since he saw 2001 Space Odyssey about 30 times over the course of 3 months in 7th grade. That film was truly a defining moment of his life and he praised Kubrick for being ahead of his time both in his imagination and that film was truly a quantum leap in cinematic history.

Even just within minutes of talking with Steve, it’s obvious that he’s passionate about film. His wealth of insights and information about films is astounding, so it’s no surprise that he was one of the three co-founder of TCFF since the idea inception began in 2007. He still remembered the night when he and TCFF’s board of directors Jatin Setia & Bill Cooper first talked about the idea in a bar in NYC.

As far as programming the films, he revealed that it started with a wish list of must haves and he went from there. The process of obtaining a certain film vary from one feature to the next, some studios offer free screenings, some charge a fee and sometimes they get to speak with the filmmakers themselves. He said we are fortunate to get most of the films they wanted in the slots that are available. There is a plan to expand the amount of mainstream/studio films in the future, which is great news indeed!

Below is Steve’s film recommendation from each category:

  • Studio Film: Like Crazy, which tells the story of a British college student who falls for an American student, only to be separated from him when she’s banned from the U.S. after overstaying her visa. Steve said it’s one of the best dramas he’s seen all year which deservedly won the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize winner. Fantastic writing and acting all around by Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones.
  • Independent: Ordinary Family (Midwest Premiere) – An annual family reunion gets rocky when Seth arrives with his new boyfriend; no one bats an eye except his brother Thomas, a married man of the cloth. It’s a humorous family drama that is also relatable and entertaining.
  • Documentary: Where Soldiers Come From – One of the five docs I featured here comes highly recommended from Steve. It’s an intimate look at the young men who fight our wars and the families and town they come from. Director Heather Courtney gains extraordinary access following these young men as they grow and change from teenagers stuck in their town, to 23-year-old veterans facing the struggles of returning home.
  • Shorts: 14 Minutes (which is actually 17-minute long) – Part of the 6 Short Stories You’ll Never Forget. An engaged American girl sets off on a road-trip to decipher her decision to get married in a few weeks by meeting up with a gruff, Canadian photographer.

Special thanks to Steve Snyder for his insights into TCFF programming. You can read Steve’s articles on TIME’s Techland section and his reviews on RottenTomatoes.

TCFF Day 2: 50/50 Mini Review

Directed by Jonathan Levine
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick
Running Time 99 Minutes, Rated R.

From the moment I saw this on the TCFF schedule, I knew I had to see it. I really think Joseph Gordon-Levitt is truly one of the brightest young actors working today, hence my inclusion in this list. I think he’s grown so much as an actor and certainly has come a loooong way since NBC’s Third Rock from the Sun! Anna Kendrick was supposed to hold a Q & A after the film, but unfortunately she had a filming commitment so she had to bail :(

I was uncertain at first just how could they make cancer funny, but the beauty is in the writing and the way writer Will Reiser and director Jonathan Levine crafted this character-driven dramedy. Levitt is such a natural actor, there’s an effortless-ness to his acting which is wonderful to see. But the supporting cast are great as well, besides Anna Kendrick as Levitt’s young therapist, I also got a kick out of Anjelica Huston’s performance as the overbearing yet endearing mother of Levitt’s character. I can’t deny there are too much crude language for my liking, but at least for the most part it wasn’t in a mean-spirited kind of manner. The theme of friendship between Seth Rogen and Levitt’s characters is what drives the story, and there is a genuine chemistry between the two that was wonderful and heartwarming to watch (yes, despite a lot of Rogen’s questionable behaviors).

I’m going to borrow an excerpt from my friend and fellow MN movie blogger Mitch Hansch from MoviesWithMitch.com whom I had the pleasure of hanging out with before the film started.

Reiser’s 50/50 goes about 70/30 with the comedy to drama ratio.  Going back to the humor-well as often as it does the jokes can come off more defense mechanism than healing process, but ultimately, the dialogue is so funny and so well delivered by it’s talented cast that all is overlooked.

Director Jonathan Levine effectively reels us back in by keeping focus that Adam is feeling all the effects of life threatening cancer.  When Adam is not getting chemotherapy treatment along with a couple of older men that are wonderfully played by Matt Fewer and the great Phillip Baker Hall, he gets counseled by a 24 year-old Dr. Katherine McKay (Anna Kendrick).  Flirtations between the two blur the doctor/patient relationship.

50/50 is a hilarious look at heartbreak that has the performances to back it up.  The odds of you liking this film are a lot higher than it’s title.

MITCHNIFFICANT- a must see in the theatre


Has anybody seen this film? I’d love to hear what you think.

TCFF 2011 Day 1: The Bully Project Review

The TCFF has landed! I’m very excited to be a part of the film fest in my city [the best one IMO] in its second year. Great to see the ICON cinema at the West End all abuzz last night, I really LOVE this place and I’m so glad they’re sponsoring TCFF this year. The theater was packed which is always nice to see.

Just as last year TCFF opened with a well-made education-themed documentary with an important message, Waiting for Superman, this year we’ve got an equally compelling one with The Bully Project.

Any way you look at it, bullying is just plain wrong. There are no ifs or buts, the bully behavior of people putting down others, harassing them both physically or mentally to the point of affecting that person’s well-being has no excuse in this world. I say people because bullying could happen at any age, basically it’s a form of intimidation. The Bully Project focuses the behavior mainly in schools, from grade schools to high school.

Director Lee Hirsch was part of an hour-long panel held about an hour before the film was shown. He was joined by panelists that include Tom Weber (MPR Reporter), Rep. Jim Davnie (MN State Legislator who co-sponsored anti-bullying legislation), Julie Hertzog (Director of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center) and Leigh Combs (Representing  MN School OUTreach Coalition).

It really was an eye opening discussion about a topic I’m not too familiar about. Not having grown up in the US, I’ve never experienced what it was like to be a student in America before college. Of course I’ve experienced a bit of racial intimidation (more out of ignorance, not malice IMO) as I went to a small town in MN where most of the population is Caucasian, but there were quite a few International students in my school so I was never bullied.

Lee Hirsch @ TCFF panel

A kid who’s been bullied will likely come out with some kind of disability.

It’s quite a strong statement from Mr. Hirsch, but I’d imagine it’s true. I mean, it may not be visible, but even a little bit of mental intimidation on a kid who’s already struggling with their identity can leave a scar for years. The biggest thing that came out of the panel for me is learning how Minnesota is still lacking on bullying law, reporter Tom Weber shared from his reporting that MN’s grade is C- amongst states that have such law, which is the lowest of all!

If you’re interested, you can view the panel discussion on this video posted on YouTube.

Now below is my review of the film. Just a note, I actually had a massive headache the entire time I was watching the film, I don’t know if it’s because of the way the camera movements or the fact that I sat a bit closer than I normally do in the theater. I don’t fault the filmmaker for this, but it certainly affect my enjoyment of watching this film.

My mini review of The Bully Project

Documentaries can be a powerful thing. Most documentarians usually set out to achieve a goal that is much bigger than simply trying to win an award or to make tons of money. Their goal is to assist or make change. With this film, Hirsch is shedding a light on a topic that is often brushed aside or simply not taken seriously enough. It’s mind-boggling to me after seeing that there are quite a number of kids actually commit suicide as a result of being bullied, and to me, even ONE kid, just one dying because of this should be a major cause of alarm for the school/legislation, what have you, to do something about it.

From a cinematic standpoint, this is not the most beautifully-filmed documentary I’ve ever seen [that honor belongs to The Cove]. There are some cinematic camera angles and such, but mostly it’s done in a matter-of-fact manner that make you focus on the subject matter and the people affected by it. In that sense it is very effective. It’s really heartbreaking to watch the kids filmed here, as well as the parents who lost their child, one as young as 11 years old!

One of the kids featured is Alex, who happens to be present at the screening with his whole family. This awkward teen was often punched, strangled, stabbed w/ pencils, etc. on the school bus. One kid whose face was blurred even threatened to kill him and inflict as much pain to him as possible. The mild-mannered boy had to endure this until finally, after his parents pressed him to confess, they realized what’s been happening to him. Here comes the infuriating part. The film shows how the schools, police and legislators just are not doing enough to fix this. There was a scene with a school official who put on a sympathetic front when the parents confront them but it’s obvious they didn’t and not going to do anything about it.

This film also offers a balance view that bullying happens to kids of all ages, color and sexual orientation. It seems that the topic is identified with the GLBT community as they’re perhaps the most outspoken and proactive about it, but the film shows that non-gay kids also suffer from bullying.

Alex & his family with Lee Hirsch – TCFF photo to come

During the Q&A, Hirsch revealed that this is a very tiny film-making project, mostly a crew of one or two (him and the producer) with a discreet looking Cannon camera that doesn’t look intimidating to people he’s filming. It is obvious this subject matter is close to his heart. Just from hearing his thoughtful answers during the panel and the way he interacted with Alex and his family on stage, he seemed genuinely care about these kids and that’s so gratifying to see. One question asked why there is no focus on the other side, the bullies themselves. Hirsch answered that it is his choice to tell the story of the side of the victims, and that bullies that he encountered seem like (in his own words) ‘little angels.’ Once you see this film, you’ll know what he meant.

I really hope this film will get recognition at the Oscars. Fortunately they have The Weinsteins Co. as a distributor and Hirsch said this film will be submitted to the Academy Awards. You know how it is about the Weinsteins with their Oscar campaign :) Normally I’d be utterly cynical about it but y’know, if it means bringing The Bully Project movement to light, so be it!

This film opens nationwide in March 9, 2012. I highly recommend you to check this out. This is a must-see for students/educators/parents, it’s impossible not to be moved by this film.


What are your thoughts about this film and/or the subject matter? Any interest in seeing this one?



UP NEXT: Interview with TCFF Lead Programmer & TIME magazine editor Steve Synder and 50/50 Review