Mini Reviews of Steve Jobs + Mr. Holmes + temporary blogging hatus

Hello everyone! You might’ve noticed I’m not blogging as regularly of late after the flurry of Twin Cities Film Fest. Well, I’ve been wanting to take a real blogging break and since this is Thanksgiving week, it sounds like the perfect time.

I’ve been wanting to really focus on my script and so I also plan to blog less in the coming weeks. I’m really close to finishing my script but as with many things in life, the last stretch is often the toughest. But before I do so, I wanted to share just my quick thoughts on two recent films in which the protagonist has been the subject of many films/tv projects. Thankfully we’ve got two very competent thespians in the lead of both movies (movie geeks will probably realize they’ve played the same role in the X-Men franchise).

    SteveJobsMovie2015Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution, to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter. The story unfolds backstage at three iconic product launches, ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac.

My hubby and I are huge fan of everything Steve Jobs had built, as we pretty much use solely Apple products in our homes: Macbook, iPad, iPhone, Apple TV, etc. So we’re quite familiar with his life and my hubby has read Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson and at first I was rather reluctant to see this given that it’s mostly a work of fiction. Well, ahead of the press screening, I read a bunch of articles that outline its inaccuracies, which I’ve listed in this comment section. That fact actually helped tamper my expectation about the film, but as soon as the film started I was immediately engrossed in the film. Ok so Michael Fassbender didn’t resemble Steve Jobs one bit, but it hardly matters once he started spewing lines from Aaron Sorkin‘s sharp script.


I have to say the film is quite mesmerizing, Fassbender is as charismatic as ever, as I think he captured the essence of Jobs’s magnetic but difficult personality. Apparently he memorized the entirety of the 180-page script which is just incredible. The supporting cast is equally phenomenal. Kate Winslet is fantastic as Jobs’ loyal marketing exec Joanna Hoffman and the constant banters they have are entertaining, even her Polish accent is quite believable. But my favorite supporting cast has got to be Jeff Daniels as Jobs’ former BFF and business partners John Sculley whom Jobs stopped speaking with when he was fired from Apple. Even Sculley himself was reportedly impressed by Daniels’ performance, even though most of the conversations between them never took place. One thing I didn’t really care for is Seth Rogen‘s performance as Steve Wozniak, which seems so sensationalized and just didn’t ring true at all. Yes the rest was pure fiction but at least they seemed believable. It’s ironic since Rogen apparently met with Wozniak extensively for the role.

That said, I definitely recommend this film. Danny Boyle‘s fine directing brings the fine elements of the script and performance to life and the camera angles and intriguing shots certainly liven up an otherwise dull scenes of talking people. If you’re going into this film expecting excellent dialog and great acting, then you won’t be disappointed. Just don’t expect a documentary because Sorkin himself envisioned it more like a ‘painting, not a photograph.’


Mr. Holmes (2015)


Now, Sherlock Holmes’ adaptation has been done many times over, but this one seems to have an intriguing angle that’s rarely seen. The aged, retired London detective is dealing with early dementia, as he tries to remember his final case and a woman, the memory of whom still haunts him. Ian McKellen is perfectly cast in the role, playing Sherlock as a 60 and 93 years old. As he returns to Sussex  in 1947, he ends up befriending the young son of his housekeeper, Roger (Milo Parker). The interraction between these two is the heart of the film.


The curious kid had been through Holmes’ study and it’s clear that he wanted the detective to work again. Through his proding and also because he’s still hunted by his final case, Holmes started writing again. The film goes through several flashback scenes, which is handled very well and definitely adds the mystery aspect one would expect from a Sherlock Holmes film. Hattie Morahan is terrific as the woman central to Holmes’ case and there’s a heartfelt exchange between the two that undoubtedly left a mark on him. As the film progressed, it’s apparent that the older Holmes is a changed man and that he has learned that intellect and logic alone often won’t solve issues involving matters of the heart.

McKellen is effortlessly magnetic here, as he always is, and he is whom I’d imagine an older Holmes to be. The usually excellent Laura Linney has a rather distracting British accent here as Holmes’ housekeeper, though I think towards the end she redeemed herself in the role. I do love Milo Parker as Roger who more than held his own against his much older and far more experienced co-star.

I wasn’t impressed with Bill Condon’s direction of The Fifth Estate (which strangely enough starred Benedict Cumberbatch who became famous playing Sherlock on BBC), but he did a good job here. It’s a slow-burn narrative that remains interesting even when there’s not much going on, and the film is beautifully shot. It’s the quintessential character study of a titular character that certainly merits its existence.


Have you seen either one of these? Do share your thoughts in the comments!

Interview with The Peanuts Movie’s writer/producer Craig Schulz and director Steve Martino


Ahead of the release of The Peanuts Movie, St. Paul MN mayor Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman declared that October 20, 2015 “Charles M. Schulz Day.” He presented the film’s writer/producer Craig Schulz (son of Charles M. Schulz) with a proclamation making, followed by red carpet interviews and family-friendly celebrations that include face-painting, photos with Snoopy, trick-or-treating, pumpkin decorating, food trucks & more!

I had the privilege to chat with both Craig Schulz and the film’s director Steve Martino that same week, along with fellow bloggers Paul McGuire Grimes from Paul Trip’s To The Movies and Emmylou Barden from Thanks Paul for helping transcribe the interview!

Me with Craig Schulz (left) and Steve Martino (right)

FCInterviewBannerPaul McGuire Grimes: What inspired you to bring it back, rejuvenate it, and bring it to a new audience?

Craig Schulz: A couple of things. It was eight years ago when I had the idea for the movie. There was a challenge to start it, how was I going to get this passed the family, and New York, find a studio, and everything else. I was determined, so it was an uphill battle. We went through a lot of steps to get there, and at one point I sat down with Bryan, my son, and Neil [Uliano] who are the co-writers of the project and producers, and we spent a month locked up in a house together crafting what would be the treatment for this movie and then we met with Ralph from Fox and Ralph loved it.

He said “We’d love to buy it” and it was a matter of finding the team to build it. Bryan had met with all the studios and we decided that we liked what Blue Sky had done and knew what Steve [Martino] had done in the past. We called them and said “Let’s make this movie”

Paul: How long did it take to get the animation correct in taking the 2D that everyone knows and loves to really making sure the 3D animation was correct and that it felt within what your dad created?

Craig: Steve can answer that best.

Steve Martino: I think, for us, that first year of development was critical. I went into it with a couple of objectives. 1) I thought the paintbrush we use today is computer animation, and I knew, as a fan, anybody would read that in an article or on a blog would be like “Really? Computer animation?” that they would be lined up ready to give us a hard time. The team that I work with at Blue Sky locked arms and said, “Look, we’re going to approach this film in a way we never have before. We studied the way Bill Melendez* animated the characters in 2D and we emulated a lot of that thinking in the way we’ve animated the characters in our world. I thought there would be a nice advantage in using computer animation in making the environment feel a little more real. Still in the wonderful style of Charles Schulz, everything needed to feel handmade and drawn.

My mantra to the team was that I wanted to feel the pen line in everything we put on the screen. With that, it was a year. We knew we had a year or year and a half before we had to put out that first image. Craig was along for that entire journey. There were times where we put some imagery together that didn’t feel quite right and we’ve had some Charlie Brown moments where we had to pick ourselves back up and go “No, we can do this.”

*Melendez directed, did the animation for, and provided voice acting in the first four Peanuts theatrical films – ed.


Paul: Did you literally say “good grief” at the same time?”

Steve: I’ve got to tell you, there were days when we had great intentions and something just didn’t look right, and I’d go home and Charlie Brown really became a mantra for me on the film. When it was a really bad day, I had a Charlie Brown sweatshirt and I would wear it the next day and say “Today’s the day when we’ll win the game or fly the kite today.”

Craig: There were days where it was a struggle to get some stuff right. At Blue Sky, they have a fur guy, a hair guy, and a feather guy. We’re just trying to get Charlie Brown’s squiggle in the front right. Steve would come to me and say, “look at these different hair things” and we kept battling with it. Finally I said, “Can’t we just go back to the line art how dad drew it?” We’d talk about Linus and his hair going up. How do we fill in the bald spots and then deal with the eyeballs? Trying to create the emotion of the whites of the eyes. I told Steve about a special I’d seen on TV called “The Umbrellas” where all they had was two dots for eyes and we had a big discussion on eyes. He put the challenge out to the group to try to deal with what we had to make it work. It was a big challenge, but it paid off in dividends at the end because everyone stepped up to make it work without going to something that would make it look really weird. It didn’t take much to make them weird.

Steve: For us, it ended up being probably the most technically challenging film that we’ve ever worked on to make something look so simple. Because that’s all that really matters in the end is that when Charlie Brown speaks, you want to feel that he’s come to life. I mean that really is what animation is about. We create the illusion of life with pixels, with drawings. We have a fair amount of 2D hand drawn animation

Paul: All of the flashbacks that you do were just so creative, and the way you then use the 2D original drawings were super creative and a good use of that.

Steve: I’m so proud of the team. There’s one artist in particular who’s a 2D traditional artist and I think that he’s done some of the most wonderful interpretations of Charles Schulz’s ink work where we really tried that thin/thick pen line and make it come to life on the screen whenever Charlie Brown is imagining you know what’s going on in his mind. To me, we’re looking at the daily strip, it’s black and white, pen and ink, it’s 2D.

Craig: The other missing thing for me was this was the first animation that’s been done where we don’t have the black outline of the characters. I hadn’t really thought about that until we started to process. I think someone mentioned that to me. “What are the edges of the characters going to look like? They don’t have the black line that your dad did with the big and small. Is it going to look like a toy, a stuff animal?” And yet it came out beautiful and I guess that’s the lighting effect guys that created the magic of that stuff, just getting that head to glow just right and create the sphere just right so it didn’t look like a planet.

Emmylou Barden: My brother used to make fun of me and say I was the Charlie Brown because I was really bad at things. I was wondering now that you’re adults and look back at your life, if you have advice for the Charlie Browns? What would you say to them?

Steve: That’s the heart of the movie, to be perfectly honest. The way Craig and Bryan and Neil looked at the body of fifty years of who Charlie Brown was, and I think what I’m happiest about is thematically in the film what we hold up are the qualities that Charlie Brown does have. We focus on the failures and love to laugh at those because we see ourselves in that a little bit, but what is wonderful about him as a character is that he is kind, honest, and with every failure comes the other side of Charlie Brown is great perseverance. He always picks himself up and tries again. That is the heart and soul of the movie that we see him go on a quest to try to be a winner and try to win that gold medal. In the end, he may not achieve that but the qualities that he does have, and this is a great lesson for me or anybody in our own lives, that those things are more valuable. How you treat your friends. How you live your life can make…those are the qualities of a winner.

PeanutsMovie3Ruth Maramis: What’s the international appeal of the story? I know the story is universal. There’s an underdog in any culture that would translate. Is that something that you are mindful of for people that might not be familiar with the characters? When you’re making movies these days you kind of have to think international.

Steve: Our audience is a global audience. We no longer make movies for the US market. The world is our audience.

Ruth: The story is so universal and relatable. Can you talk a little bit about that, as this is the fifth Peanuts film?

Craig: You really can’t go wrong by going back to the source. When Bryan and I started the project, the idea was to stick within the comic strips and stick within the context of what my dad had done for fifty years. Again, that’s that universal appeal and no matter what country you’re from, you’re dealing with the same problems. Do people like me? How do I meet that beautiful girl over there when I lose a lot more than I win? The message is universal. His work is really a study in humanism and he expresses that through the comic strip, so it should translate well. We’re going to China and Japan and all over the globe, and we hope it does. We wrote the movie staying within the context of what he did before.

Ruth: That’s what I love. The balance of teachable moments. Things that kids and adults can learn, but also have that adventure and fantastical elements with the dream sequences. They’re just so entertaining and you’re so moved by it. There’s the emotional core to the story. I want to applaud that.

Steve: I think that’s the key to a good movie is that you want to have a range of emotional feelings when you go into a theater. Peanuts is perfect for this because there’s heart and you can get emotionally invested in the characters, but you want to have a lot of laughs as well, and Snoopy is just the best character ever.

Paul: Those scenes are so great. He just comes alive essentially without saying anything. It’s so hilarious.

Steve: That’s animation at its purest form. That is a language that ascends language. It plays in any culture because its pure pantomime. It’s what we love to create as animators because it’s all on us to bring the fun to life. You mentioned with Snoopy and his adventures, we also felt that a movie going audience today wants some moments where they are on the edge of their seat and get some scope and dynamic action. We felt with the story that Craig, Bryan, and Neil put together that we’d have an opportunity to fly with Snoopy as the flying ace against the Red Baron and that we could make something bigger, more dynamic than had ever had been done with the flying ace in the past.

PeanutsMovie2Ruth: The aerial sequences are great as it looks almost realistic and you look at Snoopy and remember, “oh, that’s right, it’s a cartoon.” It’s so easy to forget because it’s so beautiful. Especially when they’re flying through the clouds…

Steve: Snoopy has a big imagination, and it had to be big.

Paul: I want to ask about the casting of the kids. Was it more important to get the essence of each kid or that they could sound like the former actors that were voicing the characters?

Steve: It started with the first conversations Craig and I had. For me, Charlie Brown is the voice that was in the Christmas special. I was six years old, and that imprinted on me. That’s who Charlie Brown is. That’s who Linus is. All of the characters. As I worked with our casting director, Christian Kaplan, the objective/the mandate was that I wanted to find a vocal quality that matches that because I’m asking an audience and fans to come in on this ride with us to watch this film. I don’t want them bumped out on the first frame of the film by hearing a voice that seems wrong.

Paul: Lucy in particular was so accurate. I knew that it wasn’t the old voice but it was a close impersonation.

Steve: Craig gave some great advice as we were doing our casting, and that was besides having the kids read the lines, just have conversation with them. Let them talk in their natural voice. I know from all of the work I’ve done with other actors that we’re in our best place when people are just performing naturally and we’re not putting on a voice. With kids, I didn’t want anybody putting on a voice. I just wanted their natural qualities. What we learned from that process, you know, Charlie Brown has that slow and steady demeanor and you need to see that in the actor, in the child that you’re casting. I tell you, the one story that didn’t follow that was Lucy, Hadley Miller.

I met her the first day and heard her audition tapes, and she sounded great. When I met her, she was the most polite, sweet nice girl and in the back of my mind what’s ticking around is, “Oh my gosh, can she be Lucy?” She’s got to be bossy. She’s got to get in Charlie Brown’s face.” Sure enough, we go into the recording session and the second line we did called upon her to bring it. I set up the scene. I always act against the kids and she just turned on Lucy and I blew back in my seat. When she was done, I was like “Oh my God, it was amazing.” And she goes “oh, thank you” in the sweetest most delicate voice. She was one by her natural demeanor that you wouldn’t see a Lucy there. With the rest of the kids, you kind of see the character in them.

PeanutsMovie4Ruth: She’s a young Meryl Streep there.

Emmylou: If you had to convince someone who was in-con-vincible or seemed that they didn’t want to see the movie, as it wasn’t like the classic version, what would you say to them?

Craig: I would say that it’s not like the classic version; it’s an extension of the classic version. When you see the characters, you see them in a light that’s new and fresh, on the other hand, it’s recognizable. To me, it’s actually better. I think they are more identifiable. They’re more real. You feel more connected to them. They don’t feel as distant as they did in 2D animation. To me, I think it’s a wonderful medium. I would never have guessed it would have been this good.

Steve: For me, I would say to them if the things that you loved about reading the comic strip or the earlier specials, the heart, the emotion, and the laughs that you have with these characters, we have retained every bit of that. That’s the core of what Peanuts is. The core is at the heart of the story. Come out to the film and feel it.

Ruth: And the music. David Benoit. I actually knew David Benoit mostly because of the Peanuts music that he wrote. I think he did a memorial album for Charles Schulz.

Craig: He’s done a lot of stuff for us. That’s why we brought him on. I called Steven and said, “Let’s bring David on.”

Steve: One of the greatest days on the scoring stage was our jazz combo day. We got David Benoit on piano, we had stand up bass, and we got the vibraphones. It was fantastic, and Christoph Beck who’s our composer did a wonderful job. It’s the same challenge as us animating these characters. There’s a lot of history to the music of the Peanuts film, and he embraced the philosophy Craig and I had on the movie, which was to tell a feature film story with these characters and to create emotion. He used everything within that palette. There are moments that we are flying with Snoopy that will have full orchestra, and there other moments where the jazz combo just lays it out there. Meghan Trainor wrote two original songs for the movie.

Emmylou: I really liked them.

Steve: She really seemed to get Charlie Brown and this story in particular.

Ruth: Did Christoph Beck and David Benoit actually work together?

Steve: Christoph Beck wrote the score for the movie, and yes they worked together on the performance. David Benoit added all of the piano work to the film.

Ruth: The film is definitely an eye AND ear candy!

Steve: That’s wonderful.

Paul: Thank you so much.

Emmylou: It was so nice to meet you.

Ruth: Thank you for coming here.

Steve: It’s the home of it all!

We also got to chat with some of the voice cast from the film, which was a real blast! They seemed to have a great time making the movie and it shows. Their voices certainly adds much to the movie and sounds like they would gladly be back for the sequel(s) :D


Me posing with the kid actors who played (from left): The red-haired girl, Franklin, Charlie n Lucy.

What are your thoughts on The Peanuts Movie? Did you grow up reading/watching Charlie, Snoopy & co?

FlixChatter Review: 99 Homes (2015)


Right from the moment this film was announced, I was immediately hooked by the timely premise and the cast. Set in Orlando, Florida and loosely based on a real-life events, Andrew Garfield plays a twenty-something single dad Dennis Nash who’s been struggling to find decent work as a construction worker. His family gets evicted from his family home where he’s lived since he was a kid, where he lives with his young son and hairstylist mom. Right away I sympathize with Nash as he just can’t seem to catch a break no matter how hard he tries.


On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve got a shrewd, wealthy real estate broker Rick Carver, played with steely gaze and gravitas by Michael Shannon. The actor is a towering figure already at 6’3″ but there’s something inherently ominous about him that makes him so perfect for this role. It’s easy to think of Carver as nothing but a greedy bastard who’s all about making money off of other people’s misery. I mean, when he drives around the block of certain neighborhoods in his fancy car, all he sees is what profit he could make from these homes. Yet as the film progress, we see that he’s not a one-dimensional villain and there is a reason behind his madness.

Filmmaker Ramin Bahrani tackled the subject of the housing crisis with such astute and empathetic eye. The way he filmed the eviction scene is truly heartbreaking and the actors portray the grief and outrage convincingly. I read that Bahrani apparently used some non-actors playing people being evicted from their homes, but he didn’t tell the lead actors in order to get an authentic response from those scenes.


The film is tense and suspenseful despite not having much action going on. I felt that under a lesser director, they’d probably sensationalize this story with unnecessary shoot-outs or sex scenes to drive the point across. But thankfully Bahrani chose subtlety and infuse the film with nervous energy that keeps building until a boiling point in a riveting finale. He’s definitely a director to watch and no wonder Roger Ebert called him ‘the new great American director’ in this piece from 2009. “His films pay great attention to ordinary lives that are not so ordinary at all,” the article says, and indeed he accomplished that in 99 Homes. I think being the son of Iranian immigrants gave him a unique perspective on American culture and events that shape Americans.


The strength of the film also lie in the two leads Shannon and Garfield. It’s interesting that both have just recently done a superhero movie(s), Man of Steel and Spider-Man, respectively. But you won’t even associate either of them with those roles, which is a testament to their fantastic performance and versatility. Garfield captured the anguish of his character perfectly, and he makes for a convincing young dad. There are some emotional scenes between him and his son (Noah Lomax, who bears a striking resemblance to Garfield), as well as his mom (the always watchable Laura Dern). He has a great rapport with Shannon and they play each other off so well. I have to mention Tim Guinee as well who has a small but memorable supporting role as a friend of Nash who’s driven to extremes by circumstances.


This film certainly doesn’t paint the real estate system in a flattering light, but yet somehow Bahrani manage to present the story as it is. It’s not a preachy piece that push a certain agenda. It’s more about two characters from two opposite real estate spectrum, and how their lives end up affecting each other in ways they’d never imagine.

Like any formidable house, 99 Homes is built on a strong foundation of a sharp script and held up by intuitive direction and powerful performances. A timely drama that will linger long after the closing credits. I can’t recommend this one enough. I definitely look forward to more films by Ramin Bahrani and more intriguing roles for both Garfield and Shannon.


Have you seen 99 Homes? Well, what did you think?

My Top 10 Picks from Twin Cities Film Fest


Well, it’s been almost two weeks since the 2015 Twin Cities Film Fest wrapped. I knew the tough part would be selecting the top 10 and so I took my time posting this. I use the same criteria when selecting my top 10 films from a given year. So when I say ‘top movies’ it’s sort of a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so these films made an impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply moving, thought-provoking, and indelible.

So with that in mind, I present you my top 10 picks:

[Click on the title to read my full review]

10. Touched with Fire

I really didn’t know what to expect from this, but the subject matter intrigued me. A directorial debut from Paul Dalio, the film seems to have been crafted as a love letter to bipolar artists and creative people. I was quite impressed by Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby who played poets who are manic depressive. It’s a heartfelt and sensitive tale of an unconventional love story.

9. Too Late


This is one of those unique films in which the risky experimentative film-making style paid off in the end. It’s another feature film debut from Dennis Hauck, and it contains only five 20-minute uninterrupted takes, amounting to 100 minutes of non-linear narrative. It’d be a shame if the style was only a gimmick, but thankfully the story is intriguing and actually quite emotional in the end. Plus it’s got an amazing performance from the criminally underrated thespian John Hawkes. His 2015 Northstar Award of Excellence from TCFF is so well-deserved!

8. Remember


As I mentioned in my review, there have been so many Nazi vengeance tales been made on screen before and yet this one manages to inject something new and different into the sub-genre. That alone is a feat in and of itself. Director Atom Egoyan made this with not much frills but the film is brimming with mystery and suspense. Boasted by an astute and heartfelt performance by Christopher Plummer, I was engrossed in the story despite not much action in the film. That finale packs quite an emotional punch, and it’ll make you forgive the generic and boring title, as it actually fits the plot VERY well.

7. It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong


Films that contain mostly of dialog between two people is tricky because a lot is required of the chemistry two actors AND of course, the script. Well, director Emily Ting in her directorial debut certainly managed to create a compelling film thanks to those two ingredients. Bryan Greenberg and Jamie Chung (who I found out was a real-life couple after I saw the movie) have an effortless chemistry together. Everything flows nicely and in a natural way, the actors seem comfortable and fit the roles perfectly. But the strength of the film is in the dialog (also written by Ting), which comes to life as the night wears on.

6. A New High


A homeless shelter in Seattle took a novel approach in helping their residents overcome their addictions, and that is to give them an epic goal to summit one of the most dangerous mountains in the country, the 14,400 ft Mt. Rainier. The film shows the residents train for that mission and the drama that happens in the group, led by former Army Ranger Mike Johnson, who spearheaded this unorthodox rehabilitation project. The film asked the question, ‘will their personal mountains be too steep to overcome?’ and it certainly made me ponder about that in my own life. It’s quite riveting to see each recovering addict face their demons head on, plus the vast splendor of the mountain is absolutely stunning to watch. Directors Samuel Miron & Stephen Scott Scarpulla also had to train for mount climbing as well in order to make this film. Their dedication and their labor of love definitely paid off on screen.

5. The Last Great Circus Flyer


There are a ton of great documentaries playing at TCFF every year and so it’s no surprise they made up nearly half of my top 10 list. This one certainly has one of the most intriguing subject matter. In 1982, Miguel Vazguez performed ‘the greatest feat in all of circus history’, that is the quadruple somersault, during a Ringling performance. He certainly had a fascinating life journey to tell and director Philip Weyland certainly did his story justice. It’s one of the most entertaining and moving documentary that showcase not only a series of amazing–you could say impossible–physical feat, but also a portrait of a truly extraordinary and inspiring individual. Even if you’re not a fan of circus or trapeze act, I highly recommend this one.

4. Thank You For Playing


Critics have called this film one of the most important film about video game ever made and it certainly lived up to that. It’s a tear-jerker of a film but one that’s also incredibly uplifting. The story chronicled the Green family, as Ryan and Amy deal with their son Joel who’s diagnosed with a terminal cancer. Ryan is a video game designer and he embarked on creating a most unusual and poetic video game to honor Joel’s life. Most video games deal with a lot of deaths, that is people getting shot or chopped to pieces violently. But never has a game dealt with death the way That Dragon Cancer game does it, tackling the issue of death head on in such a personal, affecting and encouraging way. This well-crafted film should encourage everyone going through a tough time in their lives, and also inspire people to channel their emotion, whether it’s grief or joy, into something truly creative.

3. Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made


When I saw this on the TCFF schedule, I knew this would be one I had to see with my husband. We’re both such huge fans of Indiana Jones and we LOVE Raiders of the Lost Ark! The film has a huge dose of exhilarating fun that matches Spielberg’s adventure masterpiece, as it’s truly the greatest homage to a film fueled 100% by genuine passion and creativity. You can’t help but root for the three guys who remade the film shot for shot when they were 11 years old and reunited 30 years later to finish it. It’s also interesting to see how their families share this unusual journey over the span of three decades. Watch for some extra special surprises that would definitely make you want to get up and cheer. A must-see for Indy fans, but really, anyone who loves a good story would be entertained by this.

2. Room


I’m thrilled that there have been a lot more female filmmakers as well as talents represented this year, one of the reasons I love TCFF! So it’s especially gratifying that two of the main gala screenings feature a strong female performer in the lead. I actually saw Room at a press screening before TCFF started, but I’m still going to include it here as this was TCFF’s opening gala.

Room is one of the most well-acted films I saw the entire year, emotionally heartbreaking but not a dour, depressing film. Featuring one of the strongest lead performances this year, Brie Larson shines as a doting mother who’s kept in captivity in a single room for years. The believable relationship between Ma and her young son Jack is crucial to the film and both Larson and Jacob Tremblay nailed it. It’s a deeply immersive film that really get you into the emotional psyche of the characters, thanks to a shrewd direction by Lenny Abrahamson.

1. Brooklyn


It’s always wonderful when a film lives up to your already lofty expectations and then some. Saoirse Ronan is the perfect leading lady to tell the story of Eilis, a young Irish immigrant who moves to Brooklyn and becomes torn between the new city and her homeland. The story is deceptively simple, but I was swept away by the rich, engrossing human drama that’s brought to life by the nuanced performances of the cast.

This is such a gem of a movie and watching Ronan is her understated yet layered portrayal of Eilis is nothing short of mesmerizing. She’s able to convey internal battle within her with just her eyes or a subtle smile, as there’s a great deal of economy of dialog in this film but everything has a purpose. I’m also impressed by Emory Cohen, and actor I’ve never seen before but I certainly want to see more of. He has a James Dean-esque vibe here, charming but vulnerable, certainly a worthy suitor to the film’s protagonist.

No doubt this is Ronan‘s best work among her already illustrious career and I’d love to see her get major acting nominations come award season. Kudos to director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby for crafting a beautiful story that’s engaging and full of heart. I mentioned this in my review already but it bears repeating: lest Hollywood forget, well-written story is the greatest special effects of all.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (in random order):

Just because these didn’t quite make my top 10, I still think these films are excellent and definitely well worth your time. In fact, I’m pretty sure Anomalisa would make a lot of critics’ top 10 of the year. I love how film festivals always offer *a cure for the common flicks* so to speak, a breath of fresh air from what you see in mainstream Cineplex today.

THANKS AGAIN Twin Cities Film Fest for the awesome lineup!

The TCFF Insider Series kicks off in December, so be a member so you don’t miss out on film screenings/events all year long!

If you miss my TCFF coverage, click on the Twin Cities Film Fest tab at the top of the page.

What are your thoughts on my Top 10?
Which one(s) of these films have you seen or look forward to?

Everybody’s Chattin + Trailer Spotlight: Finding Dory


Happy Midweek all! [just three more days until Friday] I’ve been thinking of taking a brief blogging break after the whirlwind film festivities of TCFF at the end of October. Well, I figure I should do that before the rush of holiday movies. I do have a top 10 TCFF picks to do still, so expect that at the end of the week before my temporary hiatus.

Before we get to that, let’s get to those links shall we? 

I haven’t got around to reviewing this but I agree with Josh‘s and Tom‘s take on the excellent Steve Jobs movie.

Some of you already know what I think of Spectre, well it’s interesting to read reviews of opposite spectrum from fellow bloggers. Check out what Mark and Keith think of the latest Bond movie.

SufragettePosterI missed Suffragette at a recent press screening, so check out what Natalie and Jay think about the historical drama. I also missed The Intern screening, but I’m in no hurry to watch it. Based on Mike‘s review however, it sounds like it might still be worth a rent.

One of my top five films from TCFF is Brooklyn, glad to hear that Adam feels the same way.

Margaret reviewed Bone Tomahawk, a horror Western that I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to handle.

TheAssassinPosterJordan‘s been covering Adelaide Film Festivals and posted his review of his martial arts drama The Assassin.

Nostra‘s still keeping up w/ the BlindSpot series, and he recently posted his thoughts on Werner Herzog’s Aguirre the Wrath of Gods, whilst Cindy posted her musings on the absurd (but entertaining) work of Wes Anderson

Some fun music-related posts: Dan did a list of Top 10 films about musicians, Michael posted one of my favorite Bond song Skyfall, and Chris reminisces on the best songs of the 1980s

Last but not least, Chris E. reviewed the pilot of Supergirl, a show I wasn’t all that interested in despite my love for superhero stuff.

And now on to the trailer spotlight…


Ooooh, what a treat we’ve got here! I’m a huge Pixar movies fan and Finding Nemo is one of my all time faves. So naturally I’m looking forward to its spin-off Finding Dory! I LOVE everything I’ve seen so far, even the poster is so fun, witty and whimsical.

“Finding Dory” reunites the friendly-but-forgetful blue tang fish with her loved ones, and everyone learns a few things about the true meaning of family along the way. Featuring the voices of Ellen DeGeneres, as Dory, Albert Brooks as Marlin, Diane Keaton as Dory’s mom Jenny, Eugene Levy as Dory’s dad Charlie and Ty Burrell as Bailey.

Check out the brand new trailer that just dropped earlier today:

I LOVE Ellen’s voice as Dory, and great to see some of the same cast back. But I’m looking forward to hearing Idris Elba and Dominic West as new voice cast members! Not sure what roles they’d be playing but it doesn’t matter, love those guys, esp Idris whose voice is as sexy and smooth as the Brit himself.

Man, now the worst part is the long wait. Finding Dory‘s released next June 2016!

What do you think of Finding Dory trailer?


FlixChatter Review: SPECTRE (2015)


I wonder if the way I feel about the Bond song somehow impacts how I feel about the film itself. Some of my least favorite Bond songs are The Man with the Golden Gun, Die Another Day, and Quantum of Solace, and those are also my least favorite Bond films. I already mentioned in this post how much I abhorred Sam Smith’s latest, Writing’s on the Wall which sounds more like fingernails on a chalk board. Unfortunately for me, during the press screening, I had to endure that song not once but twice as they played Sam Smith’s music video before the movie, so I had to suffer through THAT song once again during the opening title [sigh]

Of course it’s ludicrous to judge a Bond movie from the song, so I was prepared for an awesome Bond film. To be fair, the melody of the song itself is actually not bad, with Thomas Newman back scoring this again after Skyfall. Well, the first 15 minutes is certainly promising. It’s tradition that Bond films open with a bang and this one is no different, starting with a foot chase through a throng of huge crowd during the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City. It’s followed by a spectacular fight scene aboard a helicopter flying above the main square. If we’re to judge a movie by cinematography alone, Spectre is excellent, thanks to Hoyte van Hoytema whose done amazing work in Her and Interstellar recently.


Plot-wise, Spectre has a lot going for it, at least on paper. The parallel conflicts that Bond and M are facing in the film also promises an extra layer of intrigue, in addition to the personal vendetta that runs through the vein of Daniel Craig‘s Bond films. A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization and somehow he ends up going rogue. Meanwhile, his boss M (Ralph Fiennes) is dealing with a crisis of his own as the head of Joint Intelligence Service (which merged MI5 and MI6) threatened to shut down the double-O section. It’s an intriguing set up and as a massive Bond fan, I expect once again to be bowled over.


Alas, after that spectacular opening, the film seems to lose momentum and never quite claim it back. All the high-octane action didn’t have quite the adrenaline rush I expected from a Bond movie. Even the car chase through the streets of Rome feels rather stale, it’s like I’ve seen a far more exciting car chase scene in previous Bond movies and recently in its rival franchise, Mission Impossible 5. Then there’s the unintentional humor that makes it hard to take the film seriously. The two times Bond wooed two of the beautiful Bond girls, Monica Bellucci and Léa Seydoux, the scenes elicit laughter from the audience. It feels so obligatory and cringe-worthy, a far cry from the intriguing AND sexy love affair between Bond and Vesper in Casino Royale. Vesper was a complex character with a compelling story arc, but here the two Bond girls aren’t given the same courtesy. It’s sad to see an actress of Bellucci’s stature be utterly wasted here.

The film also promises a massive super villain, the mother lode of all villains Bond has encountered in his past, “I’m the source of all your pain,” Oberhauser tells him once Bond gets to his lair. So it’s quite a let down that this supposedly fearsome, ultra-powerful mastermind turns out to be not so menacing at all. Remember how sinister Christoph Waltz was in Inglourious Basterds? Well, here he’s nothing more than a clichéd psychopath throwing tantrums at Bond because of… a childhood feud. Huh? No less than FOUR screenwriters credited here, three of whom also worked on Skyfall, and all they could come up with is THIS half-baked story? [spoiler alert] I find it hard to believe that Mads Mikkelsen’s Le Chifre, who was effortlessly menacing AND intriguing in Casino Royale, actually worked for this lame, petulant nutjob.


Sam Mendes and his team of writers seems to have recycled a lot of what’s been done in previous Bond films with nothing new to add to the franchise. In fact, in terms of the treatment of the Bond girls, it’s a step backward. The film seems to aim for a darker story but the execution feels light and even unintentionally comical. I realize that Bond films aren’t expected to be too deep or poignant, but even the fun, escapism factor seems to be missing in this one as Mendes can’t decide what kind of Bond movie he wants this to be. At times it harkens back to the Roger Moore era, which is a jarring contrast to the more pensive and grittier tone established in Craig’s films.

The returning characters from Skyfall are still good in their roles. I do like Ralph Fiennes as M but yet he still can’t hold a candle to how fantastic Judi Dench was in the role. Moneypenny and Q (Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw) have bit more to do in supporting 007, though not so much that would make any real impact in the movie. Andrew Scott, who’s excellent in the Sherlock series, is just serviceable here, but Dave Bautista certainly lives up to other big, burly but taciturn henchmen of Bond’s past. The fight scene on the train is certainly an homage to From Russia With Love and The Spy Who Loved Me with my favorite henchman, Jaws.


As for the titular hero, I still like Craig as Bond, but more often than not he looks bored in this movie. It’s as if he’s weary of the same old types of shenanigans and hollow sexual escapades in various exotic locations. Yes I know Bond’s supposed to have this devil-may-care attitude but I think there’s a sense of fatigue that the actor can’t quite conceal. Perhaps it’s telling when Craig said in an interview recently how he’d rather slash his wrist than play James Bond again. It’s tacky to bite the hand that feeds you, but I can’t say I blame him for feeling that way.

It’s a pity because this could’ve been a truly great swan song for Craig if he were to retire as Bond (though I think he’d be back for at least one more). I like the fact that four of his films are connected in some way, though the constant throwback to his previous films also invites the inevitable comparison. If I were to rank Craig’s Bond films now, Spectre is just slightly more watchable than Quantum of Solace, but falls far short of the greatness of Casino Royale and Skyfall.


Spectre might’ve topped the box office, but it’s nowhere near the top of the best Bond films for me. So I guess that awful theme song is sort of a warning about the movie. Bond’s most personal mission barely evoke any emotional response as the protagonist himself didn’t even seem to care. There’s just no compelling human drama here in this largely soulless affair. Overall the payoff just doesn’t live up to all that build-up and frankly, the film is just forgettable. I saw it four days ago yet I barely remember anything about it. It’s such a bummer really, this movie even made this loyal Bond fan think that perhaps I’ve outgrown this franchise a bit.


Well, what did you think of Spectre? Did you like it more or less than I did?

Five for the Fifth: Special James Bond Edition


Welcome to FlixChatter’s primary blog series! As is customary for this monthly feature, I get to post five random news item/observation/poster, etc. and then turn it over to you to share your take on that given topic. You can see the previous five-for-the-fifth posts here.

Well, since SPECTRE is released this weekend here in the US, I’m dedicating this month’s edition to be ALL THINGS James Bond!

007chatter1. As I grew up watching Bond movies, I have a special fondness for the franchise. Even though I haven’t always loved all the movies, I always look forward to seeing a new one whenever it comes along. If you’ve read my blog long enough, surely you’ve noticed that this is a pretty frequent topic here, I even have a special category for it… 007 Chatter.

My twin brothers and I would watch Bond movies on VHS (yes I’m that old) over and over, and we’d always watch ’em when they’re on TV.  I actually don’t remember which Bond film I saw for the very first time, I just know it was a Roger Moore film.  Now, he’s not my favorite Bond (some loyal readers know it’s THIS guy), but I always have a fondness for some of his movies, especially For Your Eyes Only.

So tell me, how did you first discover the Bond franchise?

2. One of the things I LOVE about the franchise is that it’s pure escapist entertainment. Yes, we’ve got the guns, gadgets and girls, but for me, it’s location, location, location. You can always count on Bond movies to be shot on location in the most exotic places in the world.

There are SO many places in Bond movies I’d love to visit, but you’d have to be a billionaire to have THAT kind of bucket list. So I were to pick only six Bond locations to travel to in my lifetime, I’d choose these from each of the six Bond actor’s film:

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So what’s your favorite Bond film setting?


3.  As the saying goes, “a hero is only as good as their villain”. It’s true for most great stories, but it’s extremely crucial when it comes to the Bond franchise. The worst Bond movies is often as a result of a weak villain, whether it’s in the writing or in the casting, but I think the latter plays an even crucial role.

The topic of Bond villains have been covered several times here. We’ve talked about the best and worst villains, as well as who I’d like to see as a Bond villain a while back. In regards to that last one, I still stand by these choices as none of them have ever been cast yet (what a shame!)


L-R: Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Cate Blanchett, Clive Owen and Timothy Dalton

Oh man, it’d be a dream to see Timothy Dalton be cast as the next Bond villain. I mean he’s contracted to do three Bond films before the MGM legal woes basically caused Dalton to walk out, so casting him as a Bond villain would just be the perfect *atonement.* If you’ve seen him in Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, you’ll see he’s still got the chops, not to mention he still looks pretty damn good in his 70s! If only Penny Dreadful‘s creator John Logan, who’s also one of the writers of Skyfall and Spectre would agree with me, he could pitch that to the Broccolis! :)

Which actors/actresses are on your wish list as a Bond villain?

I’m not going to talk about who should replace Daniel Craig as Bond at this point. There’s just been way too much talk on that topic and Craig is supposedly under contract for at least another Bond movie anyway. I already talked about who I think would be great to play 007, but what I haven’t ever really discussed is Craig himself… apart from his role as Bond.


I’ve only seen Craig in a handful of non-Bond roles, the first one being Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Yep, he was Lara’s um, boy toy before Gerard Butler got the *honor* in the sequel. I haven’t seen any of the Dragon Tattoo movies nor Layer Cake, but I did see him in supporting roles in The Road to Perdition and Munich. That’s about it. So I really don’t know how good an actor he is apart from the Bond films, which doesn’t exactly show his range.

I’m curious, what’s your favorite Daniel Craig role apart from 007? 

This month’s Five for the Fifth’s guest is a longtime friend and fellow Bond fan Dan from Top 10 Films site! Dan’s posted a myriad of Bond-related top 10s, including top 10 Bond gadgets from contributor Rodney aka Fernby Films, so it’s no surprise that his question would be gadget-related. Check out this awesome infographic on this very topic!


So what’s your favorite James Bond gadgets? Is there a memorable moment(s) when Bond uses one of his gadgets to get out of a sticky situation?

Well, that’s it for the James Bond edition of Five for the Fifth. Now, please pick a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all!

TCFF 2015 Short Film Reviews Part II – ‘Love American Style’ & ‘Shoot to Kill’ Shorts Block


More great things in small packages! Every year Twin Cities Film Fest screens a plethora of great short films, grouped together in a themed shorts block. Today, we have some of the film reviews from the Love American Style and Shoot to Kill shorts blocks.


These are all part of the
Love American Style Block

The Caper

I LOVE the idea of this short film about two women who bonded over dating fatigue and a love of film noir. This is the kind of short film that could’ve easily worked as a feature and I certainly wouldn’t mind spending time with these characters for an hour and a half. Right from the start I immediately like the two leads, Holly and Anna, played by Katie Willer and Larissa Gritti respectively. They met during dinner at a mutual friend’s house, and they found out they actually have something in common. Holly’s main complaint in her dating life is that men always see her as the ‘best friend’ type, whilst Anna wishes she could actually have platonic relationship with men as they often only see her in a romantic/sexual light.


Matthew G. Anderson is the creator of the Theater People web series, which is a comedy web series about the world of independent theater and the people who live it. He has a passion for classic films and this film paid homage to the genre in a fun, witty way. I think fans of classic Hollywood will enjoy this immensely. The story is clever and genuinely funny. Willer and Gritti have an effortless chemistry, which brings the snarky script to life.

Moving On


The idea of this movie is just brilliant! It opened with a guy named Ross (Mike Ivers), awakened in the morning by a knock in the door and found two movers hired by his girlfriend. Why dump a guy over text if you could guy a moving company to break up with him AND move him out of your home, right? So yeah, naturally that scenario makes for a hilarious and efficient short film. It’s 11-minutes long, including the scene playing during the end credits. Here’s another film I wouldn’t mind watching as a feature, but the beauty of short film is they don’t overstay your welcome (pardon the pun).


The funniest bits are the way each mover handle the movee (is that even a word?). Nick (Robin Lord Taylor, aka Penguin in the Gotham series) lack the sensitivity in handling the delicate situation given it’s his first day on the job, constantly blurting out the most inappropriate things that comes to his mind. Meanwhile, his cousin and co-worker Mason (Ryan Farrell) is more of a follow-protocol kind of guy. 

The three ended up bonding over the course of one day as they pack up Ross’ stuff into the truck. All three actors are great and they seem like they had fun with the roles. The final scene is hilarious and there’s definitely enough material here for a comedic feature. Directed by Marcia Fields & Mike Spear, this is one of the most fun short films I’ve seen so far!


In the Clouds (En las Nubes)

“If it’s in the park, make sure people don’t applaud like in the movies. How embarrassing!” “En Las Nubes,” (“In the Clouds”) the new movie by Argentinean Marcelo Mitnik, works as a short film because it challenges cultural assumptions about love and intimacy that everyone is already familiar with. Of course every woman wants her guy to plan an elaborate proposal, buy a ring and get down on one knee…don’t they?

This 20 minute treat that was named as Best Foreign Short Film at the Reno International Film Festival earlier this year stars Valeria Blanc as Mariela, an Argentinean illustrator, and Jeremy Glazer as Oliver, an American dog food executive living abroad (some might recognize Glazer from “Letters from Iwo Jima”).


Having traveled abroad several times gave me perhaps more appreciation for this story – one of my pet peeves is Americans who travel abroad and expect everything to be like it is in the United States. Or expecting everything on one continent to be the same – as Oliver expresses in the opening scene when someone asks if a new creation is going to work. “Of course,” he assumes. “They did in Chile and Brazil so I don’t see why not here…”

In Argentina, it is explained, they don’t put a lot of stock in the engagement and proposal that we do in the United States. Mitnik has showed this film across the world and it would be interesting to learn what kind of reaction he has gotten. These cultural differences are what make traveling abroad so rewarding although I realize I have been fortunate to have these experiences. For now, I enjoyed this movie bringing a slice of it to Minnesota.


The Incredible Life of Darrell
(part of Digital Firsts – Webisodes)

It takes talent to encapsulate topics like relationships, jobs and best friends into short web episodes. In “The Incredible Life of Darrell,” writer and actor Darrell Lake gives us awkward but amusing glimpses into his life. It is set in Wakooki, a fictional Arizona town, and features a cast of characters that anyone can relate to. At the Twin Cities Film Fest, audiences will be treated to “Date Night,” the first episode starring Darrell as the gap-toothed protagonist, Joy Regullano as Jenny, his pint sized, venom spewing friend in a sweater vest, and Tru Collins (Stacy) as the unstable object of his affection.


The reason these episodes work is mainly because of Lake’s earnest delivery – the end of this short episode features him quizzically offering “I don’t think I understand women.” These shorts are not for children or the easily offended – there is plenty of cursing and inappropriate references which cannot be repeated here. Spoiler alert – if you can’t catch this episode at the Twin Cities Film Fest, you can watch this (and others) on his website. Perhaps next year the film fest can have an “Incredible Life of Darrell” marathon?


These are all part of the part of the
Coming of Age block

Your Blind Spot

From movies like “The Godfather” to “Goodfellas” it seems like there is an endless fascination with the world of organized crime in this country. The new short film, “Your Blind Spot,” also provides an introduction to this world. Written by Frank Wheeler and directed by Paul von Stoetzel, it tells the story of Chad (M. Allen LaFleur), a newly released convict who can climb the mob ladder…of course, he just needs to kill to do it.


LaFleur does an admirable job in the role of a fresh faced young guy in an anonymous small Midwestern town and his descent into the world of dark warehouses and “meetings.” Attendees may recognize a familiar face – in one scene, Twin Cities Film Fest marketing manager Bob Cummings tells LaFleur, “S*** just got real, kid.” At the end when he is out to dinner with his wife, he jumps when a door is opened. Welcome to the underworld.


How far would you go to protect a family member? “Blame,” a short film by Columbia College of Chicago MFA student Kellee Terrell, explores the choice a father faces when his wife discovers a cell phone video showing his only son (who was recently admitted to MIT) and other boys gang raping a girl who lived next door. The wife tries to safeguard his future (“We were only fifteen when we had him and we gave up everything…”) and rationalize (“He’s not like that…she was over here with four boys, who does that?”).


The father, played by Jerod Haynes, does a good job of portraying the emotions a father must go through in a situation like this. The title of the movie is interesting – would you blame yourself or feel like you had failed as a parent? In 15 minutes, Terrell challenges you to imagine what you would do in that situation. One underplayed part of the movie is the fact that it is revealed the cell phone video is the “only” evidence of this crime. And, yet, there were other boys there…


These are all part of the
Shoot to Kill block

The Detectives of Noir Town

Like “The Muppets” and “Avenue Q,” some things are just funny when puppets are involved. “The Detectives of Noir Town” is a short film from Director Andrew Chambers that takes us into a seedy world where puppets and humans co-exist. The “star puppet,” if you will, is Detective John Cotton, simultaneously trying to solve a mystery and find out what happened to his last living relative.


Although the story is easy to follow and provides a coherent beginning, middle and end in approximately seven minutes, it’s the use of puppets that are sure to make this show a crowd pleaser at the Twin Cities Film Fest. In one scene, there is a “bum” puppet, complete with a scraggly beard and winter hat with ear flaps. In another, stuffing flies when a puppet is shot.

The script is part “Naked Gun” (“Look out detective, you’re on the body”) and part “Columbo” (“Where was I? Oh…puppets…yeah…”) mixed with very lifelike puppets with Australian accents wearing trenchcoats and police uniforms. Shot in black and white with a distinct ode to some of the old American movies, the puppet work is professional and impressive. When you’re leaving the theatre, don’t look back…a puppet may be following you.

The Way

The description for this movie reads “An Irish hit man goes vigilante when he finds out his organization is trafficking more than drugs and weapons.” How we’re supposed to get this out of this five minute movie I’m still not sure. “The Way,” directed and co-written by Jake Woodbridge, focuses on two men in separate booths with their backs to each other in a Flameburger restaurant. (And that’s another thing – since when do mobsters hang out at Flameburger? Perhaps the filmmaker was trying to be ironic.)


The short film is filled with bizarre exchanges between the two men like “You ever going to get yourself a winter jacket?” and “You ever going to shave off that piece of s*** on your lip?” I can only imagine the filmmaker has seen too many mobster movies or he was trying to craft a bizarre tribute to them. If there was nuance to be found in this I guess it was lost on me.

Mannish Boy

One of the challenges of short films is to encapsulate a story in just a few minutes. For me, “Mannish Boy,” the new 15 minute movie from Director Ryan Tonelli, falls short because it comes across as a cliché. Set in the 1970’s, it tells the story of Bobby Mayhill (Dalmar Abuzeid), who is struggling to find his way as his older brother Tommy (Kaleb Alexander) is released from a six year prison sentence. As Tommy is released, he frets about his younger brother following in his footsteps.


As Tommy’s “friend,” Jason (Ayinde Blake) defends his interactions with Bobby, he explains his view on the world they live in – “Where we come from, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” Good to know these guys don’t have a chance. Much of the movie is set at night or in very dark settings, as if to highlight the choices these young men face.

One of the redeeming themes is the bond between brothers, which Alexander and Abuzeid play well. (In one scene on a basketball court, remembering that Bobby used to play, Tommy says with a rueful smile, “You nostalgic or something?”) There are a few good elements here but it seems like the characters and story deserve better.


What do you think about these short films?


TCFF 2015 Indies Reviews: Krisha & Wildlike

TCFF 2015 is now done and winners have been announced, but the coverage hasn’t quite wrapped just yet ;) Today we’ve got two indie dramas, each starring a strong female lead (always welcomed in my book) telling a compelling story. So hope you get to see them when they’re opened in your area!




It’s fitting that the Twin Cities Film Fest showed “Krisha” as we will all shortly be thrown again into the holiday season, a time of year that can be full of tumult for many people. This feature debut by Trey Edward Shults, which won the Grand Jury and Audience Award when it had its world premiere at South by Southwest last year, focuses on one woman’s attempt to overcome her troubled history and reconcile with her wary family over the Thanksgiving holiday.

While the supporting cast members have infrequent but powerful scenes, the movie really belongs to Krisha Fairchild, the silver-haired matron of addiction and dysfunction, who delivers an unflinching glimpse of someone in the throes of an emotional breakdown. Fairchild is Shults’ real life aunt and I couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like to film your aunt portraying a woman battling but ultimately unable to overcome her internal demons. Krisha_1There is a lot that is not explained in this movie, but the camera work helps us fill in some of the blanks – Krisha, staying at her sister’s house, is given a room at the top of the stairs where she is sometimes seen ominously glaring at the extended family downstairs. Numerous scenes of the turkey cooking seem to be a metaphor for a disaster soon to come – emotions rise as the temperature heats up, drawing us closer as everything goes to hell.Krisha_2The one quibble I have with the film is the use of strange tonal music during the first 30 minutes – perhaps it’s supposed to be a harbinger of upcoming drama, but I just found it really distracting. Ultimately though, you’re left with a mix of compassion and horror for a woman one of her relatives coldly tells her in one scene, “You are heartbreak incarnate.”




A troubled teenager named Mackenzie (Ella Purnell) is sent to stay with her uncle because her mom is having some personal issues. Her uncle (Brian Geraghty) lives in Alaska, Mackenzie who’s living in Seattle did not like what she sees. There’s an uneasy feeling that Mackenzie doesn’t like being around her uncle. We later find out that her uncle has been sexuality molested her. While on a site seeing with her uncle and his friend at some park, Mackenzie decided to escape. Now lost in a city that she’s not familiar with, Mackenzie broke into a hotel room and here is where she met a hiker named Rene (Bruce Greenwood). Rene has come to Alaska to hike its wilderness and Mackenzie wants to tag along. After some arguing, the two set out in the Alaskan landscape and got to know each other.


Newcomer Purnell was quite good as the lead; she basically appeared in about 99% of the movie. She was very believable as the troubled teen that obviously has been abused throughout her young life. I’ve always been a fan of Greenwood and here he’s good very good as sort of a father figure to Mackenzie. His character also has some trouble background and he’s in Alaska to heal some wounds. Brian Geraghty was decent as the creepy uncle even though his time on the screen was pretty small.


Writer and director Frank Hall Green did a good job of setting up the mood and never try to be preachy with the story. With so many beautiful locations in the Alaskan wilderness, I was kind of disappointed that he and his cinematographer decided to shoot the movie in a gritty documentary style. But despite the gloomy look of the movie, there were still some very nice shots of the lush beauty of the Alaska’s landscapes. A movie like this tends to have an ending that would either shock you or just downright depressing, I’m glad Green didn’t go that route and even though the ending was kind of ambiguous, it was satisfying to me.

Wildlike is not a great movie but a good one that deserves to be seen mostly for the two leads’ performances and some of its beautiful scenery.

Stay tuned for Part II of the TCFF Short Films reviews & my Top 10 Favorites of this year’s film fest!

What do you think about either one of these films?


TCFF 2015: It’s a Wrap!! Reviews of ‘The 33’ & ‘Thank You For Playing’ doc, highlights and winners of Twin Cities Film Fest top awards


Woot woot!! Can’t believe the 11-day Twin Cities Film Fest has wrapped last night. I was far too beat to do any kind of blogging when I got home from the final night Mixer aka after party around Midnight. Thank goodness we’ve got an extra hour of sleep thanks to Daylight Savings Time, talk about perfect timing! :D

Well, I still have a few reviews in the pipeline that have yet to be published (a collection of short films and indie drama Krisha review will be up tomorrow). Just because the film fest is done, doesn’t mean the TCFF-related posts are over. I got to meet a few filmmakers throughout the night whom I haven’t got around to interviewing and exchanged business cards, so more filmmaker interviews are coming in the next few weeks! I’ll also be working on my Top 10 list from TCFF 2015 (some of which also won the top awards last night).

Well, TCFF ended on a high note once again. The final day started off with one of the great educational panels (a free event!) with cinematographers and DPs working in the industry, including Checco Varese who shot last night’s gala film The 33. Lots of interesting discussions about some technical stuff, and they answered my question about the whole dialog of film vs digital filmmaking.


THE 33

The last two films both deal with heart-wrenching subject matters but done in such an inspiring and uplifting way. The 33 chronicled the event that gripped the international community when 33 Chilean miners were buried under 100-year-old gold and copper mine and trapped for 69 days!

Director Patricia Riggen did a phenomenal job telling a compelling story of human resilience and the courage of both the miners and their families above ground who refused to give up. Great ensemble cast featuring Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche, Rodrigo Santoro, Gabriel Byrne and Lou Diamond Philips. It was exquisitely shot by Checco Varese, which was shot on location in two different mines in Bolivia, Colombia. It certainly looked authentic as the environment of the set made the actors felt as if they were real miners for a while. In fact, the 33 miners were consulted for the film and the final shots showed the real miners who are still as close as brothers to this day. There were moments that might’ve felt too ‘Hollywoodized’ but overall the film didn’t feel emotionally manipulated. The genuinely stirring score came from the late James Horner, which the film paid tribute in the end.


During the Q&A afterwards, Mr. Varese shared that the mountain would shift during filming inside the mine, just like in the film! He also shared that he’s actually married to the director. What a team, hope they’ll collaborate on a film again in the future!

Thank You For Playing documentary

ThankYouForPlayingPosterRemember I said this year the film fest opened AND ended with a documentary? Well it couldn’t have ended on a better film than Thank You For Playing. The synopsis alone should tell you it’ll be a tear-jerker, but it’s not a sad story, in fact it’s an uplifting one that should inspire everyone going through a tough time in their lives. Critics have called this film one of the most important film about video game ever made and it certainly lived up to that.

The story chronicled the Green family, as Ryan and Amy deal with their son Joel who’s diagnosed with a terminal cancer. When Joel was one year old, he was told he only had a few months to live but he ended up living for another three years. Ryan is a video game designer and he embarked on creating a most unusual and poetic video game to honor Joel’s life. He captured the motion and voice of his son, including his infectious laughter, in the game and took us through the heart-rending journey in making that game. Most video games deal with a lot of deaths, that is people getting shot or chopped to pieces violently. But never has a game dealt with death the way That Dragon Cancer game does it, tackling the issue of death head on in such a personal, affecting and encouraging way. Its website called it A Journey Of Hope In The Shadow Of Death and that could’ve easily been the tagline for this doc as well.


I LOVE that their Christian faith is ever present in the documentary (as well as in the game itself), as they continue to be thankful to God despite their difficult situation. It also showed the church community coming alongside them and helped them through it all, as Amy Green later shared during the Q&A was a huge part of their lives. It certainly altered my feelings about video games, which I tend to see in a negative light given my late brother’s addiction to it. But every form of art can be used for bad or good and in this case, the Green family gave a moving testimony of the empathetic power of the art of video game and how they process their grief through technology. Kudos to filmmakers David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall for crafting such a beautiful and reflective film honoring the memory of Joel Green. It deservedly won Best Documentary at TCFF last night (see more winners below).

P.S. Stay tuned for my interview with filmmaker David Osit in the next few weeks!

TCFF Favorite Moments in pictures…

“Room,” “Brooklyn” and “Too Late” Win Top Awards at 2015 Twin Cities Film Fest

Post by TCFF executive director Jatin Setia

Concluding a star-studded showcase that featured more than 100 films over 11 nights, the largest-ever Twin Cities Film Fest unveiled its 2015 award winners Saturday night at a ceremony held in downtown St. Louis Park.

Top awards went to the critically-acclaimed mother-son drama Room, which just last month earned standing ovations at the Toronto International Film Festival, Brooklyn, the sweeping, much buzzed-about period immigrant drama starring Saoirse Ronan, and Too Late, the daring independent noir thriller starring Minnesota native John Hawkes who appeared in person to receive the festival’s Northstar Award.

“You look at daring stories like Room and these are the kinds of journeys and characters that stick with you for a lifetime,” said Twin Cities Film Fest Executive Director Jatin Setia. “Leaps of faith like that are why film festivals are so essential – the chance to discover great films before the rest of the world sees them, the chance to champion independent projects that deserve extra attention and the chance to talk about the art and the craft with the very artists who are making the next great movie.”

Awards were handed out in nine categories Saturday night. Each category also officially recognized three standout honorable mentions. “Room,” directed by Lenny Abrahamson, took home the trophy for best feature film; Thank You For Playing, the festival’s official closing night documentary directed by David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, won best documentary; and Skunk, a short film by Annie Silverstein, won the 2015 award for best short.

Minnesota audiences who attended the festival were invited to cast ballots for the 2015 audience award. John Crowley’s “Brooklyn” took home the feature film trophy (honorable mentions included : “The Dust Storm,” directed by Ryan Lacen & Anthony Baldino; “The Polar Bear Club,” directed by Brett Wayne Price; and “Shut In,” directed by Adam Schindler). Sarah Smith’s “D.Asian” took the top audience prize for short films (honorable mentions included Adam Burke’s “Boardroom,” Matthew G. Anderson’s “The Caper” and Bruce Southerland’s “The Last Vanish”)

“This year’s ballots were noteworthy, because they recognized projects both big and small, and celebrated such a wide and eclectic range of tones and topics,” said Steve Snyder, the festival’s artistic director. “I think the diversity of the voting this year reflected the wider diversity of the Twin Cities filmgoing —and filmmaking — communities. And maybe in that regard it shouldn’t be surprising at all. Year in and year out, we hear from filmmakers and studios alike that it’s the sophistication of Minnesota movie audiences that make them want to debut and premiere here. We know good movies when we see them, we know how to celebrate art that deserves recognition, and I think filmmakers across the country know that.”

As always, the festival culminated with two “Indie Vision” awards, recognizing standout independent productions released over the last year that broke new creative ground. The 2015 Indie Vision Breakthrough Film Award went to the Dennis Hauck thriller Too Late, in recognition of its immersive storytelling techniques. (The film was composed of five unbroken and carefully choreographed 20-minute “acts”) The 2015 Indie Vision Breakthrough Performance Award went to Rosa Salazar, actress in the notable Charles Hood’s romance Night Owls, in recognition of a raw, brilliant and pitch-perfect character arc and a performance that required hitting notes across the emotional spectrum.

Here’s the full slate of 2015 award winners, as well as honorable mentions:

Best Feature Film

“Room,” directed by Lenny Abrahamson.

Honorable Mentions:
“It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong,” directed by Emily Ting; “Brooklyn,” directed by John Crowley; and “The Quiet Hour,” directed by Stephanie Joalland.

Best Documentary

“Thank You For Playing,” directed by David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall.

Honorable Mentions:
“Man Vs. Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler, directed by Tim Kinzy and Andrew Seklir; “A New High,” directed by Samuel Miron and Stephen Scott Scarpulla; and “Out in the Cold,” directed by J.D. O’Brien.

Best Short Film

“Skunk,” directed by Annie Silverstein.

Honorable Mentions:
“D.Asian,” directed by Sarah Smith; “Even the Walls,” directed by Sarah Kuck and Saman Maydani; and “Myrna the Monster,” directed by Ian Samuels.

Audience Award, Feature Film

“Brooklyn,” directed by John Crowley.

Honorable Mentions:
“The Dust Storm,” directed by Ryan Lacen & Anthony Baldino; “The Polar Bear Club,” directed by Brett Wayne Price; “Shut In,” directed by Adam Schindler.

Audience Award, Short Film

“D.Asian,” directed by Sarah Smith.

Honorable Mentions:
“Boardroom,” directed by Adam Burke; “The Caper,” directed by Matthew G. Anderson; and “The Last Vanish,” directed by Bruce Southerland

Indie Vision, Breakthrough Film

Winner: “Too Late,” directed by Dennis Hauck.

Honorable Mentions:
“Anomalisa,” directed by Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman; “Thugs: The Musical,” directed by Greg Bro; and “Out in the Cold,” directed by J.D. O’Brien

Indie Vision, Breakthrough Performance

Winner: Rosa Salazar, “Night Owls.”

Honorable Mentions:
Brie Larson, “Room;” Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn;” Nathan Tymoshuk, “Snail Mail” and “The Writer.”

2015 Changemaker Award:

Dr. Heather Huseby, executive director of YouthLink.

2015 Northstar Award for Excellence:

John Hawkes.


Shout out to all TCFF volunteers for making the film fest possible! THANK YOU to all who’ve volunteered this year, you all rock!!

Well that’s my recap of 2015 Twin Cities film fest. Hope you enjoyed the coverage so far, stay tuned for some additional reviews and more filmmaker interviews!