TCFF 2014 – Interview with Ink & Steel Filmmakers/Cast

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It’s the final day of Twin Cities Film Fest and there are tons of great films playing today! Here are some of the highlights:

I had the privilege to chat with some of the talented filmmakers/talents of two of the films playing today: Ink & Steel and Time Lapse! I shall have the interview with Bradley King & George Finn from Time Lapse sometime this weekend.

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In this upstate New York drama, when a turf war engulfs the city, aging mob enforcer Michael retrieves the Don’s troubled son from his college partying. After they survive an attempted hit on the road home, Michael seeks refuge at a rural farm, imposing on a single mother and her teenage son living there. As violence escalates in the city, Michael is ordered to wait it out, keeping the boss’ son safe while coexisting as unwelcome house guests. But, when dark pasts threaten to collide, Michael, a man more comfortable solving problems with force, must find a way to keep the peace, and decide if he should break the Don’s son free of the cycle of violence which has haunted the family for generations.

FCInterviewBannerIt was quite a whirlwind day Thursday night. A half hour before the Kumiko: Treasure Hunter screening at 8:30, we managed to squeeze in a quick interview with the filmmakers and actors of Ink & Steel up at the ICON lounge. Directors Jonathan Ehlers and Patrick Ward-Perkins and actor Tyler Noble had just arrived from L.A. that late afternoon, but they were both so gracious and totally game to chat about their film. It’s so awesome to see Molly Ryman again, whose film Things You Don’t Understand premiered here in 2012 and she won Best Actress Award for her performance!

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Q: So Jonathan/Patrick, how did you come up with the concept of the film story?

Jonathan: Well, it came out part creative desire and part necessity. We had this wonderful location in Upstate New York at a farmhouse and we knew we wanted to shoot something there. Having grown up in NY, there’s that I know a guy who knows a guy and I knew a few guys growing up and that sort of inform the voice of the characters. We felt it was important to sort of take a soldier archetype and take this aging mob enforcer and put him into this unique set of circumstances where he’s not equipped for, which is to show compassion and take care of this young man. And we sort of rolled from there and built this world where this sort of mentorship would happen. It’s just a strong character piece that we believe in and again it’s sort of a necessity thing as we knew we wanted to complete a feature film and this story sort of make sense and we have the means and location to do it, and we wanted to find talented actors out of NY and we put this together and this is what we came up with.

Q: So Jonathan and Patrick, do you know each other before? How did the decision come up that you wanted to work together?

Patrick: We knew each other long before we made this film. Jonathan actually came from NY to LA and we met up there. We worked together screenwriting for about seven years and we wrote this Ink & Steel script together a while back with another guy Jason Radspinner and we knew this would be an exciting film we want to get off the ground so Jonathan and I got on the directing chair and made it happen.

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Q: Tell us a bit about the casting process for the film, did you have to hold auditions to cast the actors?

Jonathan: Back in 2006 before I went down to LA I studied w/ an acting teacher, Robert Modica. Modica is a bit of a legend, he’s a revered acting teacher in NY as he taught alongside Sanford Meisner. He taught actors like John Turturro and David Duchovny so when we knew when we wanted to cast actors from NY for this film, we knew his acting school would be the place for us to find the great pedigree of talents. I had a fun memory of being there and so we went over there and sat in on some classes and that’s how we found Richard Fiske who played Michael and also Jason Beckmann who plays Noah, the son of Vanessa’s, the single mother [Molly's character] also came from there. The fact that I’m transitioning from music to film and wanting to be a serious director, I got a lot of out his teaching there, so it’s really gratifying to sort of go back to that great school. We had a reading in NY and Molly and Tyler came highly recommended from friends of hours.

Q [for Molly]: Tell us a bit about your role here in Ink & Steel.

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Molly: Sure. I played a single mom who rents a farmhouse from a gangster but she didn’t know they’re gangsters. She’s got a past that she’s leaving and she’s starting over and raising her son and so these gangsters show up… For me, this kinds of wakes her up. She’s sort of stuck in her life a little bit… she doesn’t have a lot of hope for a beautiful, full life, she’s sort of living for her son. So these gangsters show up and change her life a little bit. And her relationship with Michael… y’know, I don’t want to say that he’s a father figure per se, but that he’s umm, terrifying but also represents a good man and to remember that men are good and Jimmy [Tyler's character] is like life for her, there’s something about him that she can relate to, there’s something between them that gives her hope again for a possible romance.

Q: How about you Tyler?

Tyler: Jimmy is the son of the mob boss whom you never see. But he has nothing to do with the mob, he’s the odd man in the family, kind of like Al Pacino in Godfather 1. He doesn’t get respect, so he’s kind of the dorky artist in the family so nobody understands him. Between that and his family being in trouble and stuff like that, he turns to drugs when he’s up at college experimenting . Then things got to be too much for him and he got too deep into it. So he’s struggling to get out of that and he’s helped by these two unlikely figures. One is this mob enforcer uncle who doesn’t know how to deal with this issue and then there’s Molly Ryman’s character [Vanessa] who’s very nurturing and sweet and gives him the piece that he’s missing, that love. It’s almost motherly… father is like the father that he needed and Vanessa being the mother figure. So maybe this is like Tyler going from being a boy to a man.

Richard Fiske & Tyler Noble

Richard Fiske & Tyler Noble

Molly: I feel that Both Vanessa and Michael helps Tyler realize that he doesn’t have to be tied to what his past is, what his family is, so he can move on. And they’re both rooting

Tyler: Yeah, for the first time in his life, he’s getting support from people. He gets love and support for his own strength and that he doesn’t have to follow the path of his family.

Q [for Jonathan & Patrick]: How’s the experience of working together like? Y’know like the Coen Brothers work together a lot. So what’s the strength and challenges and the dynamics of working together?

Molly: I want to answer this as I never get to talk about this [laughter] Well it’s like a dance… I’ve never worked with two directors before but it was flawless. They spoke a language that only they understands, there’s no conflict, at least not visible to the actors. They might have something going on behind the scenes, but from they show to the talents, they each kind of have their scenes.

Tyler: They have such great respects for each other. 

Molly: Yeah and they’re such a team. And there are some things I need to go to Jonathan for and some I need to go to Patrick for…

Tyler: I’ts like Voltron, remember Voltron? [laughter]

(For those who don’t know, is an animated television series that features a team of space explorers that pilot a giant super robot known as “Voltron”)

Molly: So it’s definitely one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I mean they’ve now become dear friends but as professionals and on the set, it was amazing. And we moved so fast, nobody would ever know how fast we moved and it was because of them that despite that, filming was still flawless.

Jonathan [left] and Patrick [right] filming Ink & Steel

Jonathan [left] and Patrick [right] filming Ink & Steel

Q: Ok, so in relation to that, how long was the shoot. Was it shorter or longer that you had anticipated? Was it on schedule?  

Patrick: Well we couldn’t afford not being on schedule. So the answer is yes. For how long the film is, we shot in 16 days. I mean it’s a drama over 2 hours, and there are gunfights, there are small car chases so there are a lot of things going on. The pace that we have to keep up was unbelievable.

Q: Now, I’m wondering which one is harder, the action stuff or the more emotional, quieter moments. Which on is harder? 

Jonathan: Well that’s a tough one. I would say, there’s definitely two parts to that answer. The action comes more naturally to us, but under the time and budget constraints that we had, it was more of a physical challenge, the cold and the discomfort of being in this barn in the Winter time in upstate New York. When you’re outside in the elements, you’re worried about people’s comfort and safety. So it’s more of a physical stress because planning the fight scenes is second nature to us… so like Molly said, it’s like a dance and we had that down. But to capture the sensitive, emotional scene, the micro-dynamic of what’s going on, it’s more of a mental stress.

Patrick: Yeah, in a way the physical scene and action scene are challenging partly because of budget. Typically you have a bigger budget and you more time to shoot these things, whereas the challenging emotional scene is more of an intellectual challenge where it’s really more about for our actors to have the time and focus to get to the correct headspace to get into their characters. Some schedule allow us to do two of such scenes and at times we have to do five, and so you’re talking about going from one headspace to another.

So knowing that limitation, we try to make it as easy as possible for the actors and so we shoot everything as chronologically as possible so at least we have an anchor. I mean our crew was so small that we can’t tell them, ‘ok so we’re gonna shoot this scene from this part of the script and now your character is in this place.” But instead we all knew instinctively deep down where we were because as much as possible we stay in order.

Jonathan: What I’d add to that is we shot to edit. We knew we’re going to do the post-production of the film ourselves. So as long as we’re committed to our decisions in the action scenes, we can sort of in a way cover what we miss with sound design. We can always make fight moves more interesting in post production. But when two people are baring their souls, you can’t just necessarily cut around that. So there’s a lot of pressure to capture those scenes…

Patrick: Yeah, so to capture that moment. So when we’re on the set, when we’re done filming a scene, we’d glance at each other after a take. We know each other so well that we’d know if this is the one. We’d know that if we have time we can shoot a few more but if we don’t, we can move on. So that’s the tipping point that we know we can move on. Otherwise, editing won’t save anything.

Q [to Tyler & Molly]: How about you guys as the actors, in regards to emotional vs. action scenes.

Tyler: I think more people are learning to put together stuff on a smaller budget so an actor’s job is changing as well. So it’s an actor’s job to remember continuity, how the hair was. You have to step up to the plate and do as much as you can. Whether it’s holding a dog or holding a mirror to make sure your beard that you trim it the right way the next time. I think for the emotional stuff, a lot of the preparation is done beforehand. Whether it’s a song [gesturing wearing headset], whatever it is I can use to get to that headspace… for some reason, when that song is playing, it hit me really hard to get to what I’m supposed to feel, so I play it and let myself sink. They [the directors] usually give me a few minutes beforehand to prepare… so that stuff you can prepare beforehand.

Patrick: Our crew is so small that everyone had to pull a lot more weight than what they’re used to. Jon and I have done a much bigger budget production where there’s bigger crew, and you see that everyone has a very defined role that you could be spending 60% doing that task and 40% doing nothing. Whilst on our set, everyone was doing 100% of the day, sometimes more than that as some days are really long and hard. Even if all that you’re doing is moral support. Say, the crew is spending their time filming in the woods, and you’re at base camp, you’re making sure sure that there’s soup when they get back. When another crew work extra hard, you gotta make sure that you’re there for them and make sure that they’re ok. It’s such a familial experience.

Molly: It’s such a family experience, because in a bigger budget and you have people taking care of your wardrobe, etc. so much work is done for you. I mean you shoot your scene and you go away, but here you’re living together in this house, or hotel, all day long we’re together doing everything so it’s so amazing, it makes for an amazing family. It shows in the film how passionate we all were in making this happen.


 Check out the Ink & Steel featurette!

Ink & Steel 

Sat Oct. 25th, 5:30pm (followed by Q&A w/ filmmaker/cast!)


Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, guys! 

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Hope you enjoyed the interview. Stay tuned for more reviews and the Time Lapse interview !

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TCFF 2014 Day 7: Romance Double Bill – Old Fashioned & Comet

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We’re on the final stretch of the film fest and Day 7 is one of the three busiest days for me, with back-to-back screenings. It’s been fun [and challenging too, I'm not gonna lie] wearing multiple hats as blogger/film critic/journalist the past few days. But I’m so grateful that everyone I’ve met so have have been so friendly and gracious, it’s really been quite an exhilarating experience and that’s why I keep blogging for the film fest!

So last Wednesday, I got to see one excellent documentary and two romance dramas of opposite spectrum. Speaking of documentaries, I will be combining all the doc reviews all in one post after TCFF wraps.


And here are the reviews from Day 7 …

Old Fashioned

The idea behind Old Fashioned may seem foreign to a lot people today (including to the filmmaker himself at some point), but depending on your world view, it’s certainly not an improbable notion. The title refers to an antique shop in a small Midwestern college town, owned by a former frat boy Clay Walsh (Rik Swartzwelder). One Autumn day, a young woman named Amber Hewson (Elizabeth Ann Roberts) happens to drive into the town. Apparently it’s [her] tradition that wherever her car runs out gas, that’ll be the town she’ll stay in, at least until she has to move again. And so she ends up renting an apartment right above Clay’s shop.

OldFashioned_AmberClay and Amber couldn’t be more different. Clay with his permanently-tousled blond hair is taciturn and a loner, whilst the beautiful Amber is free-spirited and outgoing. Sparks didn’t exactly fly in their first meeting, but there’s definitely a hint of attraction. As it turns out, Clay has pretty much been living a monk-like existence for the past nine years, much to Amber’s bafflement. When he comes up to her room to fix her broken stove, Clay insists that she stands outside the door with a blanket. “It’s not normal,” she balks at Clay’s unyielding rules and relational theories. Perhaps more out of curiosity than physical attraction, Amber sort of *pursues* Clay by continually breaking stuff in her apartment just so he’d have to come up to her apartment. Eventually Clay agrees to go out with her, but only if she agrees with his terms.

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I gotta admit that I think Clay is a bit extreme in his approach to relationships. In a way, Amber is kind of the voice of the audience as she asks the same thing we would if we were to meet someone like him. So as Amber discovers more about Clay – and vice versa – the film peels the layer of both of their past. Clay had spent his college days sowing his wild oats, whilst Amber had been traumatized by her past relationships that her first inclination is always to run away. For Clay, his heap amount of guilt pushes his ideological pendulum to swing so far the other way that he practically sabotages his own chance at true happiness. I like that the film didn’t paint the protagonist as some high & mighty hero who’s got everything figured out. Clay and Amber are flawed characters we can all identify with and the film shows just how fragile relationships can be without even mixing sexuality into it.

The film doesn’t shy away from the faith elements, showing scenes and conversation about Christianity and the Bible, but they’re not done in a preachy manner. In my conversation with writer/director/star Rik Swartzwelder, he mentioned that he wasn’t interested in a faith propaganda story, but he was inspired by people he knew whose stories become the concept for the film. And so the spirituality element is organic to the characters and intrinsic to the story.

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The film’s beautifully shot on location in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, by David George. There’s a rustic quality to the entire film, the whole vintage look is a nod to a bygone era, both literally and philosophically speaking. Most of the supporting cast feature local actors which adds to the authentic Midwestern sensibilities. My favorite is definitely Dorothy Silver as aunt Zella who’s been trying to get Clay to lighten up and let go of his guilt. LeJon Woods as Clay’s BFF is a lot of fun to watch as well, both of them are the comic relief of the film. But the revelatory star is definitely Elizabeth Ann Roberts who has an effortless screen charisma and sweet vulnerability about her that makes her perfect for the role. I’m glad Swartzwelder ended up casting her after months of searching, and Amber is truly the heart of the story. I think the characters are nicely fleshed out, though it’s a bit tough for to picture such a serene fellow like Clay that he was a reckless womanizer, as the film barely show flashbacks of their past.

The ending is perhaps too fairy-tale-ish, but I can’t help being swept-off my feet by the film’s undeniable charm. I can even forgive some of the schmaltzy moments that drag on a bit, so I think the 115-min running time could’ve been slightly trimmed down. Overall I’m impressed by Swartzwelder‘s feature film debut, it’s an enchanting romance drama I’d readily watch again.

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Comet

It’s interesting to see Old Fashioned and Comet back to back as both deal with romantic themes and both are feature film debuts from its respective directors. Their styles and approach to romance couldn’t be more different however.

Set in a parallel universe, the film bounces back and forth over the course of a couple’s six year’s relationship. Dell (Justin Long) and Kimberly (Emmy Rossum) met as they were lining up for a meteor shower watch at a college campus. It’s kind of a quirky meet-cute, as Kimberly saves Dell from being hit by a car. It prompted Dell to ask Kimberly out right in front of her handsome date (Eric Winter). Dell is honest and verbose to a fault, saying everything that pops in his head unapologetically. The constant bantering is amusing and frustrating at the same time, and the film pretty much consist of monologues and conversations of the two leads.

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The unconventional time jumps employed here feels a bit gimmicky at times, though fortunately I don’t find it as confusing as I thought I would. The bantering alternates turns to bickering and a screaming match in certain period of their lives, and both actors perform their roles wonderfully. Emmy Rossum impressed me in her stunning performance in The Phantom Of The Opera a decade ago, she barely aged a day it seems. Justin Long shows that he certainly has range, and his dramatic performance here is as convincing as his goofy, comedic side. They’re both very natural and believable in their roles, and to me that’s the strength of the film to keep me engaged.

The film plays with meta theory of dream vs reality but yet never quite shifts into sci-fi fantasy mode. I have to say though, the overly-stylized way the film is shot, with its transition and fancy camera angles, feels experimental to me. I’m not saying I didn’t like it, in fact I think the film’s cinematography is gorgeous. But at times it just feels a bit indulgent, it’s as if Sam Esmail is showing off his directing chops when a less edgier style would perhaps work just as well here. The ending also ends abruptly and though I don’t mind open-ended stories, this one just felt half-baked to me. It also doesn’t help that I simply couldn’t connect with any of the characters.

Still, I think the concept is interesting, which makes me wonder why this film was barely promoted by the studio. I mean there’s not even a trailer out yet even though it’s supposedly out in December, and even images of the film is scarce. I’d say it’s worth a rent if you like the cast and in the mood of an unconventional indie rom-com.

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Check out FlixChatter’s exclusive interview w/ Rik Swartzwelder, Writer/Director/Star of ‘Old Fashioned’ discussing the story origin of his film, casting process and going against Fifty Shades of Grey next year.


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Individual tickets are on sale now at twincitiesfilmfest.org


Have you seen any of these films? Would love to hear what you think!

TCFF 2014 Day 5 & 6: Reviews of ‘Evil, Enemies & Aliens’ Shorts Block + Solitude

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I love the variety of Twin Cities Film Fest lineup, year after year. One of the film formats I don’t get to see often is Film Shorts, but thankfully, TCFF offers five set of Shorts broken down by themes. I missed the first set but last Monday I got to see the second set, you can see a sneak peaks of them all in this video below:

Evil, Enemies, and Aliens (Shorts Block)

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Disturbing and deadly conflicts aren’t unique to large scale wars or terrorism. They can be found around us in our everyday lives. This shorts block takes a look at retaliation, murder, fishing, sacrifice, and bare knuckle fighting to illuminate the beautiful, but uncertain world around us.

Films in the Evil, Enemies & Aliens Short Blocks:

  • Gone Fishing
  • Windage
  • Trapped
  • Alone Together
  • Knuckle
  • One Armed Man

I’m only going to do a mini review of the two that I like most – both happen to be under 8 minutes each. I think the rule of thumb for a good short film is that it shouldn’t overstay its welcome. I guess that should be a rule for any kind of film, but most especially for shorts because to me, that’s part of the appeal. Having a shorter time frame forces filmmakers to be more innovative and creative storytellers and I think these two films illustrate that.

Windage – by Dan Delano

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A city is torn apart by war. On the outskirts of town, two lone snipers cross paths and pin each other down.

War is such a universal theme, but so is the concept of kindness and altruism. Windage mixes those themes well and the gritty Winter setting adds to the sense of isolation and abandonment. Both leads, Kari Ann Craighead and Danny August Mason, gave a believable and affecting performance as well, they did a nice job acting with just their eyes and facial expression. The film as a whole is very minimalistic, with barely any word is spoken, yet the ending provokes such a big emotional impact.

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Alone Together – by Blake West

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A man struggles with his past, only to find out it is his present and inescapable future…

Similar to Windage, this film is economical and minimalistic in its approach, with just two leads telling the story. There’s a deep sense of mystery here that is played out nicely right up until the end. Louis Mandylor is the main lead who’s present throughout. I recognize him for some of his supporting work on films and TV, and he has such a melancholic face yet somehow keeps you guessing. I like films that play with our expectation and keep you guessing just who the main character is and the woman who follows him to the ocean. I really didn’t see the twist coming which is always nice when that happens. The film is well-shot and has an eerie feeling that works well for the story.

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Now, since we’re still on the subject of Shorts, I want to give a shout out to filmmaker Conor Holt, who happens to be TCFF’s Social Media Coordinator this year, as his short film A Better Life that premiered here last year. His award-winning film is now out on Vimeo!

It’s one of my fave short films, it’s a well-crafted sci-fi that’s really thought-provoking. Check out my chat with him on the making of the film this post.


And here’s the review from Day 6 …

Solitude

You know how when someone tells you not to do something it just makes you want to do it more? Solitude, the horror flick making its world premiere at the Twin Cities Film Fest, is like that. Spanning 75 years, it takes place in a mysterious town where evil recurs in six segments. Directors Taylor Scott Olson and Livingston Oden are obviously inspired by old movies such as “The Exorcist” and “The Nightmare on Elm Street.” We first meet James Erikson (Armin Habibovich) going through an old storage locker filled with family artifacts after the death of his mother. Five more vignettes follow, shot to appear as they take place in 1939, 1961, 1977, 1986 and 1999, and include odes to “Frankenstein” and “The Blair Witch Project.”

The random clues in a single box found in the locker lead to an old Native American tale of a monster that has been killing those who dare to trespass on this land. A native woman tries to warn each set of intrepid adventurers but of course, none of them listen to reason. That’s about as serious as this movie gets- it’s really just campy fun. (Early scenes reminded me of recent spoofs of the 1936 film “Reefer Madness,” including a musical where a flamboyant Jesus dances around with life size pot brownies to warn teenagers of the dangers of the “evil weed.”) If the cast’s aim in the movie was to spoof terrible acting in old horror films, they succeeded.

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One of the fun things about a film fest is getting to see movies before anyone else. The theatre was packed on Tuesday night and it was clear from the cheering in the audience when people’s names came up in the opening credits that there were a lot of cast and crew present. Afterward, a Q&A with directors Taylor Scott Olson and Livingston Oden revealed that the movie was shot in Minnesota- the “Solitude River” in the movie is actually the Rum River. When asked why they chose the title, Olson said that he originally thought of “Solace” but didn’t want confusion with the upcoming Anthony Hopkins movie. He settled on “Solitude” because when you hear that word you think of a peaceful, serene place- the opposite from what the movie actually is. An entertaining show that doesn’t take itself too seriously mixed with behind-the-scenes insight…I can’t think of a better way to spend a night at the theatre.

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Individual tickets are on sale now at twincitiesfilmfest.org


Have you seen any of these films? What did you think?

TCFF 2014 Interview with Rik Swartzwelder, Writer/Director/Star of ‘Old Fashioned’

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It’s just four more fun days to go before Twin Cities Film Fest wraps, so the fun is far from over! For the past week, I was fortunate enough to be able to meet some truly inspiring and gracious filmmakers/talents. One of my favorite moments covering the film fest is the wonderful chat I had with Rik Swartzwelder, writer/director/star of Old Fashioned, a classic romantic drama that rarely get made anymore in Hollywood. I really think Old Fashioned should inspire both teens and adults as the two characters in the film, Clay & Amber, attempt the impossible: an “old-fashioned” courtship in contemporary America.

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FCInterviewBannerI met Rik straight after work at a coffee shop near the Showplace ICON Theatres. I knew right away we’d get along great as soon as I met him. Despite being such a talented filmmaker, a triple threat no less being able to write/act/direct, Rik is so gracious and humble and chatting with him is such a joy!

Unfortunately I hit yet another snafu with my iPhone recorder, wouldn’t you believe it? It turns out that I did find my taped convo with Haley Lu Richardson after all, but I somehow lost my conversation with Rik :( Yet he was kind enough to answer my questions again via email (bless his heart!). I’ve gotten a new voice recording app that hopefully works better that this won’t happen again. So check out the insights into the story idea of Old Fashioned and making the film:

Q: What inspired you to come up with story of ‘old-fashioned’ courtship?

A: I was looking to craft a story that reflected the lives of a lot of single people I knew at the time —just a bunch of normal guys and girls, most in their 20s and 30s, looking to fall in love and find a life partner and all that good stuff.  They also all very much believed in God and wanted to honor God in their dating lives. None of these people were perfect, but they truly were looking for something beyond the hook-up culture and wanted to date in ways that didn’t add to the romantic damage and brokenness overwhelming many singles.

It got me thinking that there might be an opportunity here to explore some pretty counter-cultural ideas in an entertaining way.  And that’s when I remembered a story I’d heard years before about a married man that made a promise to never be alone with any woman that wasn’t his wife.  He did this to safeguard his marriage from potential infidelity and also to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.I thought that was such a unique and strong choice that it could open up a lot of possibilities for a character in a contemporary love story.  And what if some guy made a promise like that and wasn’t even married yet? What would that look like? Definitely not the norm. It seemed like a good launching pad for a lot of interesting conflict and debate.  And that was the beginning of the rather odd and curious character that eventually became Clay Walsh in Old Fashioned.

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2. Please tell us the casting process and how you ended up choosing Elizabeth as your co-lead.

We spent a lot of time casting the film… looked at well over 1,000 actors. And, since we were shooting the film in Ohio, it was important for us to cast as many local actors as possible. We wanted the film to feel authentically mid-western.

Plus, there is so much amazing talent out there that simply never gets the chance to shine.  We really took our time and were able to discover some remarkable local actors. And to me, one of the best parts of indie films is that discovery of new talent.

This is especially true of Elizabeth Ann Roberts. She gives a star-making performance in Old Fashioned and I’m so excited for the world to see it. She’s based in Los Angeles, actually, and I saw her on tape very early in the casting process. She blew me away, made me literally cry… on tape.  She was Amber.

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But, as often happens, we kept looking at other actors for many months. At the end of the day, no one came close to Elizabeth’s audition. After meeting in person, I was sold. And she was an absolute joy to work with. There’s no doubt, casting her was one of the very best decisions I’ve ever made.
 
3. You said this film was not a religious per se, but it’s a story with faith in it. Could you elaborate on that a bit?
 
It’s a love story about broken people struggling to figure out a different way to look at romance in a very hedonistic, confusing era. These are real people; they aren’t perfect, they make serious mistakes… and one of these people also happens to take his faith in God rather seriously, to a fault almost. The faith elements in the film are very organic to the character’s journeys and are set in a very real-world and relatable environment.
 
It’s not a Pollyanna approach to complicated issues or propaganda offering a point-by-point “how to” when it comes to dating.  It’s an old school, deeply heart-felt romance that asks some hard, honest, and refreshing questions about love in modern America.
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4. This film is going to go against Fifty Shades of Grey, was that a deliberate decision on your part?
 
To be clear, when I first got the idea for Old Fashioned I had never even heard of Fifty Shades… in fact, it was years before the author had probably even thought of the idea herself. I wasn’t creating Old Fashioned in reaction or response to any other book or movie; I was seeking to tell a different kind of love story that reflected the lives of singles I knew at the time.

That said, by the time we actually raised the money and actually got Old Fashioned made, Fifty Shades had become a cultural juggernaut. When they announced they were going to open their film on Valentine’s Day 2015 as a date-night romance… that’s when we got the idea. It seemed like a unique, possibly once in a lifetime kind of opportunity to offer alternating views of love and romance on the same day. We know it’s David v. Goliath here, we’re not naïve. But, we also very much believe it’s a cultural discussion worth having and are very grateful for the conversations that have already begun since we announced our release date.

And look, let’s be honest, finding your audience remains one of the biggest challenges for truly independent cinema. Our release date against Fifty Shades has already raised our profile to the point that folks interested in an alternative love story like ours are now having a much easier time finding us. And they are letting us know, in growing numbers, that we are definitely not alone in believing that there is indeed a more beautiful way to approach love and romance. And that is very, very encouraging.


Old Fashioned has two screenings at TCFF. One was last Saturday 10/18 at 2pm and the other one is later today at 4:30pm. It’ll be released in theaters on Valentine’s Day, 2015.


Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, Rik.
I wish you & your project all the best!

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Hope you enjoyed the interview. Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews tomorrow!

TCFF 2014 Day 4: Wild Canaries, Just Before I Go & double reviews of The Young Kieslowski

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Woo hoo! We are already halfway into the film fest… and there are still exciting films to look forward to. Stay tuned for more TCFF coverage here, there’s a dedicated TCFF tab with all the links to articles and reviews.

Here’s what’s in store today for #TCFF14 Day Six


Red Carpet Events – 21st Host – Geoff Briley

5:00pm: To Say Good Bye – Tim Torabpour/Cast/Crew
7:45pm: Solitude – Taylor Scott Olson, Livingston Oden/Cast/Crew


And here are the reviews from Day 4 …

Wild Canaries

Part “Big Brother” and part “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” the new movie from independent filmmakers Sophia Takal and Lawrence Michael Levine amiably mix the relationship problems of a group of 30-something New Yorkers with a madcap whodunit. Wild Canaries, which had its world premiere earlier this year at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, is not only written and directed by Levine and produced by Takal but also stars the duo who are married in real life.

Barri (Takal) and Noah (Levine) live with an assorted cast of characters in a Brooklyn apartment building where someone, amateur sleuth Barri suspects, has murdered their elderly neighbor who lived in a rent controlled apartment. The main plot takes awhile to get started and I began to think I was watching a stream of consciousness tale about the trials and tribulations of young people living in the big city. (“Is 8:30 too late?” Barri asks her neighbor while inviting him over for dinner.)

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Somehow Levine manages to mix a variety of story lines (a failing movie distribution business he runs with an ex-girlfriend, a neighbor’s fight over their daughter with his ex-wife and Barri and their roommate’s plans to rehab a resort are just a few) with a screwball murder comedy- something that can be tricky to pull off without getting too dark or schmaltzy. They incorporate fun tributes to “Columbo” (in one scene, Barri is running around in a tan trench coat, floppy hat and sunglasses) and New York (in another, Barri opens her neighbor’s door using her Metrocard). 

Takal and Levine shine in their roles as the slightly neurotic drama queen and the world weary, put upon husband (“Acting weird is not a crime,” Levine points out after Takal mentions a neighbor’s shady demeanor). I would say they have an easy, natural chemistry (in one scene, Takal scolds Levine while flossing her teeth before bed) but wouldn’t you hope so since they are married?

Levine also incorporates a simple technique some moviemakers forget is important after one has invested 1 ½ hours in your product: he actually tells you what happened at the end. (Yes, I know for some it’s part of their craft to leave an audience guessing… you can disagree with me for preferring a resolution.) Not to say the end is boring – a head spinning explanation in movies such as “Wild Canaries” can also leave you guessing. As Barri and Noah’s roommate Jean (Alia Shawkat) says near the end, “Wow. Some people lead such exciting lives.”

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Just Before I Go

This film is the directorial debut from famous actress Courteney Cox. It centers around a man named Ted Morgan, played by Minnesota native Seann William Scott, who wants to kill himself when his wife leaves him for another man. Ted moves back home to reconnect make amends with people from his childhood before he takes his life.

Scott, who’s known for his comedic roles in such films as American Pie, takes on this role very differently and almost seems like a turning point in his careers as we finally get to see a wider range of acting skills. For most of the comedy in this movie he plays a straight man with the people around him having the funny lines and actions.

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The movie also stars Olivia Thirlby, who plays Greta, who discovers Ted’s plan to off himself and wants to document it and have it be his suicide note. Her character is the voice of the audience as she asks the questions the audience is probably thinking that aren’t addressed in Ted’s narration at the start of the film. Thrilby is great in this film as she is able to balance comedy and heart through her time on screen.

Just Before I Go is about a man wanting commit suicide but it isn’t a movie that makes light of suicide as Ted Morgan isn’t a depressed man he just doesn’t have a reason to live anymore and his journey in this film is about him finding a reason to go on living. So before you decide to skip this film because it is about a man wanting to commit suicide, do realize it really isn’t about that, it is about the people in his life, with very funny moments spread throughout all 95 minutes of it.

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The Young Kieslowski

– Josh’s Review –

A genre-bending romantic comedy, The Young Kieslowski is a quality production, one worthy of full-scale theatrical release. It details Brian Kieslowski’s (Ryan Malagrini) coming of age, both emotional and sexual, during several months of a single year in college. Throughout the film, Brian grapples with his mother’s (Melora Walters, magnificent) pending death, a complicated relationship with love-interest Leslie Mallard (Haley Lu Richardson), Mallard’s unsupportive celebrity father (James Le Gros, even better than Walters), and his own emotional immaturity.

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Insofar as he shoulders much of The Young Kieslowski’s emotional weight and an equal dose of its comedy, Brian is a challenging role for Malagrini, but the young actor proves more than capable, especially in the scenes he shares with Richardson. Of course, that has much to do with Malagrini’s co-star; Richardson’s work in The Young Kieslowski is borderline revelatory, especially when one also considers her turn in The Well (where she is equally good). Why? The two characters are very different. Playing both of them requires range, and Richardson proves she has it.

As does The Young Kieslowski’s writer/director Karem Sanga. Here Sanga proves adept at shifting genres. Early, this picture appears to be a teen-sex comedy, but then it rapidly shifts to rom-com, before changing again to be a coming-of-age tale. From there it cycles between the latter two, never straying too far from either, but also never hewing so closely as to be frustratingly predictable.

That isn’t to say the film is perfect. A fantasy sequence during a ‘key lime pie event’ is out of place. Moreover, the project loses a little energy when Mallard is off screen for extended periods.

But The Young Kieslowski, is very good, even borderline excellent, and certainly worth viewing.

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– Ruth’s Review –

One of my favorite parts about film festivals is that I get to see indie gems you otherwise might overlook. The Young Kieslowski is one of those I’m glad I got to see, and I’m certainly glad to be introduced to such talents as Ryan Malgarini and Haley Lu Richardson, the two young stars of the film.

The movie begins with Brian Kieslowski at the dinner table, getting the bird & the bees talk from his mother who’s battling cancer just before he’s off to Cal Tech. Right from the start, you know that this film imbues difficult subjects such as terminal illness and teen pregnancy, with mirth and humor. I immediately sympathize with Brian, Malgarini has such a quirky & likable quality about him that is fun to watch. But the story pretty much starts at a typical college party, where booze and hormone collides, a tricky combo bound to create tricky predicaments. Brian meets Leslie Mallard, obviously drunk even as she professes that she’s going to save herself for marriage. Alas, the two ended up hooking up, and wouldn’t you know it, Leslie gets pregnant… with twins!

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The story is nothing groundbreaking, yet writer/director Kerem Sanga presents it makes it seem fresh and delightfully engaging. The scene where Brian finds out about the pregnancy is hilarious, but it wasn’t done in a flippant way as it really made you think about how’d you feel if you were in their shoes. Apparently this topic is a personal one for him, as he and his twin brother were born when their parents were in college. He’s done well with casting young talents like Malgarini and Richardson who made their characters so easy to root for that I was quickly immersed in their journey. Oh and what a journey it was! Of course the toughest part is breaking the news to their parents, and the scenarios are played with humor as well as poignancy. Tough subjects such as abortion isn’t delivered with such heavy-handed or preachy manner, but it’s a natural progression of what both characters have to face and deal with. It seems at first that the subject of faith was to be explored, however, it was dismissed as casually as it was introduced.

I also notice how diverse the cast of The Young Kieslowski was, and the relatively inexperienced actors playing Brian/Leslie’s friends actually did a pretty decent job here. Joshua Malina & Melora Walters as Brian’s parents, as well as Minneapolis-born character actor extraordinaire James Le Gross lend a strong supporting cast. The revelatory star is definitely Haley Lu Richardson, who displays the most range as well as strong screen presence. She definitely has leading lady quality and I hope Hollywood notices her soon. Kudos to Sanga for creating such a delightful, funny and poignant story that teens and adults would enjoy. I appreciate that he’s not afraid to go into some dark moments, such as when Brian trembling at the thought of losing his mother, without having to follow that up with some silly humor. The movie also moves along at a nice pace, and at 94 min, this charming comedy never overstays its welcome.

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Check out FlixChatter’s exclusive interview w/ Haley Lu Richardson as she discussed getting her part in her feature film debut in The Well, and tidbits on filming The Young Kieslowski.


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Individual tickets are on sale now at twincitiesfilmfest.org


Have you seen any of these films? What did you think?

FlixChatter Review: FURY (2014)

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Hollywood loves making films about WWII and to their credit they produced some great ones. In my opinion, Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line were the last great films about this war. And even though I loved Inglorious Basterds, I don’t count it as true WWII film, if you saw it then you know what I mean by that. This latest one from writer/director David Ayer has an A-list leading man and huge budget, but unfortunately it’s just another by-the-numbers war film.

It’s April 1945 and the war is almost over, as the film opens we see an aftermath of a huge battle and the only people left alive were a group of American soldiers inside a tank named Fury. Its commander is Don Collier (Brad Pitt) and his crewmen are not happy with him since one of their teammates was killed in the battle and they blamed him. After some bickering, they head back to their base camp to get their next assignment. A young recruit named Norman (Logan Lerman) introduced himself to Collier and said he was told he’s now under Collier’s command. Upon seeing the young soldier, Collier was not happy but he has no choice but bring Norman on board. After receiving his next mission from his boss Captain Waggoner (the always great Jason Isaacs), Collier and his men set out to take down more Nazis. As the film moves on, it became pretty generic in this genre, we see big battles, body limbs gets torn apart, the young soldier gets picked on by older soldiers and of course they accept him once he proved himself in the battlefield.

FURY_2014_stillsPitt gave a solid performance as the leader but seeing him in perfect shape and his hair never seem to get messy during the battle scenes really didn’t make his character more believable. When I saw the trailer for this film, I thought he might do another Aldo Raines but thankfully his performance was more grounded than in Tarantino’s flick. The most surprising performance to me was Shia LaBeouf, he’s the man of faith in the group and I thought he was quite good in the role. After seeing him in all those awful Transformers movies, I just couldn’t stand him but here he actually gave a good performance. Unfortunately the rest of the cast members got stuck with clichéd roles. Jon Bernthal is again being cast as the “bad” guy on the team and even though he did a good job, we’ve seen this kind of character many times before. Michael Peña is the token minority character and he’s supposed to be the comic relief guy, in some scenes he’s funny but again we’ve seen this too many times before. Lerman’s Norman is supposed to be the heart and soul of the team since he’s the “innocent” one but he’s not a strong actor so he didn’t really make an impression on me. I think Ayer tried to make his character very similar to that of Charlie Sheen in Platoon but it didn’t work because he’s a supporting character. The film might’ve worked better had it been told from Norman’s perspective and have a better actor in the role.

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David Ayer has been living off the success of his early writing gigs, he wrote the first Fast & Furious film and later that same year another film he wrote became a success, Training Day. As a director, none of his films were successful and here I think he tried too hard to make a “serious” film. There’s a scene halfway way through the film that totally dragged and I wish he’d left it on the cutting room floor, I think I understood what he’s trying to say with that scene but to me it’s just a waste of time since it never really amount to anything significance later in the story. The battle scenes were well staged but seeing green and red laser beams was kind of weird, I’ve never seen a real gun battle in real life so maybe when guns are fired, they shoot out laser beam like that.

Technically Fury is a success but overall it’s just another run of the mill war film that we’ve seen way too many times before. Maybe with a better script, the film could’ve worked better, but there are so many great films out there about this subject that it’s hard to make anything new.
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Have you seen FURY? Well, what did you think?

TCFF 2014 Day 3 Reviews: These Hopeless Savages, 3 Nights in the Desert, The Well and House of Manson

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The festivities continues at Twin Cities Film Fest! Weekends are always super busy at the Showplace ICON Theatres at the West End, but even more so with all the hustle and bustle of the TCFF crowds. A bunch of Midwest Premieres took place last night, featuring Q&A following films such as These Hopeless Savages, Old Fashioned, BFFs, The Well, and a huge cast & crew in attendance for the first of two sold out screening of House of Manson.


The second screening of House of Manson on Monday night at 9:30pm is already SOLD OUT … but, no fret, TCFF will have a RUSH LINE available for every “sold out” screening. We typically are able to accommodate anyone waiting in line. So, before you decide not to come, please do consider the Rush Line! The Rush Line is located across from the TCFF Offices on the Main Level of the Shops at West End, right below the theater lobby.


Now here are the reviews from Day 3…

These Hopeless Savages

Similar to Alexander Payne’s Nebraska (2013), These Hopeless Savages is a road movie doubling as a relationship drama. In this case, the focus is on Shawn (co-director/co-producer/co-writer/star Sean Christopher Lewis) and Greg (co-writer/star Matt Delapina), childhood friends who have lost touch over the years. Shawn believes he’s won $50,000, which he can claim by traveling from New York to Iowa, and he wants Greg’s help. Though Greg doubts the money’s authenticity, he agrees, for personal reasons, and the two embark in Shawn’s sedan. These Hopeless Savages documents their cross-country journey, along which they encounter several eccentric characters.

In so doing, the film is often funny, particularly in scene’s including Greg’s girlfriend, Nicki (Mackenzi Meehan). Meehan’s deadpan delivery and her chemistry with Delapina are both striking, indeed so much so that she is the film’s greatest merit. Which is saying something, because the cast is universally strong. The picture’s visual style is impressive, as well; directors Kaitlyn Busbee and Lewis use minimalist camera movements and wide image frames to create a realistic tone, one which helps push forward the plot.

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Unfortunately, These Hopeless Savages stumbles at various points. First, we never understand why Shawn believes the $50,000 actually exists. Unlike Nebraska’s Woody, Shawn’s mental faculties are not deteriorating, so what gives him such confidence? It helps that Lewis and Delapina, as writers, hint, at various points, that the money isn’t Shawn’s actual motivation, but the idea is undercooked and then contradicted when the protagonists reach their destination. Moreover, neither of these characters change. They start emotionally damaged, and they end that way. They start with particular character flaws, and they end with the same. Their stories feel unfinished, even in a picture less about individuals than relationships.

For all of that, These Hopeless Savages has enough humor, good acting and quality directing to make it immersive and entertaining. It is far from great, but it is also far from bad.   

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The Well

Though too predictable and too faithful to genre, The Well, is filled with enchanting cinematography and even more atmospheric intensity. The picture, which is written by Jacob Forman and director Thomas S. Hammock, depicts an apocalyptic world fatally short on water. Living in this world is Kendal (Haley Lu Richardson, excellent), who struggles to rebuild an airplane while simultaneously caring for her ill childhood friend, Dean (Booboo Stewart, even better than Richardson) and a youth named Alby (Max Charles, underused), whom she’s found living alone. She must also fend off many rivals, some of them in search of water, and some of them employees of a nefarious company.

In part because of the actor playing her, Kendal makes a compelling protagonist, but she is not the most interesting character here. That is the primary villain, Carson (played empathetically by Jon Gries), who is layered by love for his daughter, Brooke (Nicole Fox) and remorse. When Carson and Kendal finally speak to each other, it is a riveting scene, indeed, one that rewards the viewer with fascinating dialogue between two multi-dimensional characters.

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Hammock’s visuals are just as rewarding, as is his ability to create tension, both through audio and image frames. At times, The Well’s obviously low budget hurts the picture, especially when Hammock uses CGI to create blood or fire, but mostly the director overcomes financial limitations.

A handful of exposition-heavy scenes between Carson and Brooke prove bigger flaws. As does Brooke’s characterization. She is so underdeveloped as to be almost senseless. Finally, during what should be the film’s most impacting moments, Kendal successfully hides from her enemies, but only because Carson doesn’t follow previous patterns of behavior. In another should-be-impacting sequence Kendal behaves differently than she has before. These moments border on character breaking, and thereby disengage the viewer, at least for a time.

Still, The Well succeeds far more than it fails. It deserves a recommendation.

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Check out FlixChatter’s exclusive interview w/ Haley Lu Richardson as she discussed getting her part in her feature film debut, and the challenges of filming The Well.


3 Nights in the Desert 

A middling drama about old friends/bandmates reuniting after several years without contact, 3 Nights in the Desert neither impresses nor offends. It simply exists.

Tax attorney Barry (Vincent Piazza) and musician Anna (Amber Tamblyn) travel to the California desert, where their defunct band’s former guitarist, Travis (Wes Bentley), now lives. Ostensibly the three are fulfilling a long-ago promise to collectively celebrate their thirtieth birthdays, but Travis has a manipulative motive, Anna has personal issues never fully explained, and Barry doesn’t want to admit he pines for the past, even while he also rages at it.

All three actors do well with what they’re given, especially Tamblyn, who makes an underdeveloped character feel almost real. Unfortunately, writer Adam Chanzit and director Gabriel Cowan don’t give them much. First, the characters are sketches, not multi-dimensional figures. Second, the plot is boilerplate, offering a standard love-triangle, and equally standard reflection on idealism versus pragmatism. Some forced symbolism and a repeated metaphor (a supposedly mystical cave) don’t help either.

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Yet, 3 Nights in the Desert isn’t bad. Sure the opening voice over explains relationship dynamics Chanzit and Cowan would have been wise to show us, and sure nothing here surprises or enlightens, but the actors still capture attention, the occasional music is quite good, and the picture’s pacing (a run time just over eighty minutes) is crisp enough to ensure the narrative never grows stale. Plus, the director and his crew skillfully photograph some gorgeous California scenery.

In the end, do I recommend 3 Nights in the Desert? Not really. But it needn’t be avoided either.

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House of Manson 

House of Manson is a film that chronicles the life of Charles Manson and focuses in on the events leading up to and including the Sharon Tate murders of 1969. Unlike other Charles Manson biopics that focus in on the sex or the over the top nature of the Tate murder, this one focuses in Charles Manson’s influence and connection with his followers, the Manson family as they call themselves.

Charles Manson is portrayed by Minnesota born actor Ryan Kiser, who returns for the second year in a row to Twin Cities Film Fest. Last year Kiser co-starred in the horror film Truth or Dare and this year he brings the fest the world premiere of House of Manson. Kiser approached the character in a very serious tone and does a fantastic job conveying the crazy yet brilliant way Charles Manson was able to draw followers into his cult.

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Devanny Pinn co-stars as one of Manson’s followers Susan Atkins and gives a chilling performance as her screen presence is freaky. Pinn truly becomes Atkins on screen as the facial reactions make you think this women is completely off her rocker and has no moral compass at all.  An overall amazing performance by Pinn.

This film does suffer from some technical flaws as the sound isn’t completely smoothed and could use some more attention by a sound mixer. The filmmakers even admitted in a Q&A following the world premiere that some of the sound transitions were going to need to be looked at. The film also has a saturated look that doesn’t look completely intentional. The image doesn’t pop off the screen as some movies do that have a more crisp and sharp look to it.

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Overall, the film is a great portrayal of the events surrounding the infamous Charles Manson. It doesn’t get too crude or violent as previous films about the same subject matter, it takes the source material as it is and conveys the story in a very tasteful matter. With a great cast and direction by Brandon Slagle, House of Manson is definitely worth checking out when it later finds distribution.

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Stay tuned for reviews from Day 4!


TCFFtickets

Individual tickets are on sale now at twincitiesfilmfest.org


Have you seen any of these films? What did you think?

TCFF 2014 Day 2 Reviews: Father-Like Son, The Last Time You Had Fun, V/H/S: Viral

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Day 3 is nearly gone and I just finally got a chance to put something together for the blog! It’s quite a whirlwind day for me today. I had a prior commitment in the AM in St. Cloud but we somehow made it back in time for the Actors Panel, one of the educational panels that I always look forward to every year. This year we’ve got three awesome guests whose films are playing tonight: Sean Maher (BFFs), Haley Lu Richardson (The Well) and Ryan Kiser (House of Manson). The panel was moderated by actress Marisa Coughlan (Super Troopers, Space Station 76). It was quite an insightful event as you learn how they got into show business, and the high/low of being an actor, etc.


And here are the reviews from Day 2…

Father-Like Son

Let’s just say the script in “Father-Like Son” doesn’t beat around the bushes. Written by and starring Mac Alsfeld and Andrew Megison and featuring Alsfeld in his directorial debut, it tells the story of Clark, a 24 year old wannabe writer living at home with his widowed mother and her new husband Dan, who happens to be Clark’s age but nonetheless aspires to be a father figure to Clark.

The first line in the movie is Dan popping into Clark’s room - “Hey there dude, you got any condoms I can borrow? Your mother claims to have had a hysterectomy but I don’t buy all that science fiction bull.” And the movie goes downhill from there, resulting in an endless stream of immature, unfunny jokes.

(About 20 minutes into this movie I started thinking, “This is like The Hangover. Except not funny.”) Another scene involves Dan, a self-proclaimed “inventor,” showing off his latest creation – the Okey Dookey, a poop-shaped plastic toy you can hide a key in.

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A subplot involves Clark getting a job in a used bookstore, where we meet fellow employee Emily (Molly Canarro) and Peaches (Peaches Davis), the little old lady who owns the place. Emily’s feisty retorts playing off Peaches’s sweet charm were a breath of fresh air. The movie attempts to turn maudlin toward the end with Clark struggling to come to terms with his father’s death but it was hard to care at that point after a mind numbing parade of juvenile man jokes. (To get back at Dan, one of Clark’s friends suggests that he cut up his dog and leave body parts all over the house.)

It is shows like this that remind me of what critics sometimes say if they really don’t want people to waste their time: I watch these movies so you don’t have to. I understand that I am not the target audience for this kind of show but in my opinion I would suggest you pick another movie to enjoy at the Twin Cities Film Fest.

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The Last Time You Had Fun

Story takes place in a single night, mostly in a limo rented by a guy named Will (Demetri Martin), supposedly to celebrate his college buddy Clark’s (Kyle Bornheimer) divorce. These two buddies can’t be more different from each other, even from the way they’re dressed. Will is a preppy lawyer and Clark is a teacher can’t seem to get out of his sweatpants. As we later learned, Clark’s divorce left him for another woman. Because of his friend’s persistence and his young kids’ insistence that he needs to get out of the house once in a while, Clark reluctantly agrees to go, so long as there’s no strip club involved. They ended up at a wine bar, Clark’s pick, and there they run into two sisters. Will dares Clark to pick up those women and he only agrees to do it just so he could go home.

The foursome end up hanging out together in the bar and later share a limo going as aimlessly as they go about their own lives. The two sisters are Alison (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), who appears to be the sensible one, married with a young daughter. She’s always patient to lend an ear to the drama queen of a sister Ida (Eliza Coupe), who’s in the middle of a nasty divorce.

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As the title says, most of the characters can’t seem to remember when was the last time they had fun. The bickering between four dysfunctional adults are comical in their honesty about how they feel about themselves and each other. Everyone’s got issues, one seems more messed up than the other. As the night wears on, more layers of their personality is peeled off as inhibitions slowly diminish. In fact, they go more restless, bolder and crazier, much to the chagrin of the snappy limo driver (Charlyne Yi) who have to put up with their shenanigans. One of the funniest scenes is when they try to get some weed, resulting in the most bizarre scenario of the entire film. Character actor Jimmi Simpson has one of those faces you recognize in a bunch of films/TV series. The sexual experiment scenario is played mostly for laughs but yet it’s not a throwaway scene as it’s in keeping with the adventurous theme of the story.

The film’s tiny budget shows in the production quality, but the honest, funny and engaging dialog and naturalistic performances from the entire cast make up for it. The two male actors fare slightly better IMO, you can’t help but root for them despite their flaws. There are some slow parts and some of the dialog seem clunky to me, but overall I think Mo Perkins‘ sophomore effort is a pretty good one. I like how the script by Hal Haberman plays with our perceptions/prejudices of the characters as they don’t always behave in the way they predict they would.

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V/H/S: Viral

V/H/S: Viral is the third movie in the V/H/S series that was started in 2012. The V/H/S movies are anthology films made with mostly found footage films that are edited to play together with an overarching plot that sort of works at connecting them all to play after each other. The previous two installments (V/H/S and V/H/S 2) were very enjoyable in their concept and new takes on found footage through the use of spy glasses cam and GoPro cams.

This time, the overarching plot that is seen between each short film, entitled “Vicious Circles”, is about a man on chasing his girlfriend who has been kidnapped by an ice cream truck which is also being chased by the police. This short that is broken up over the length of the film is quite good at showing the environment on how the entire city is on alert and watching this police chase.  Of the three V/H/S films this overarching plot is the weakest at not only connecting all the films together, as well as being a driving force throughout the whole film. It was different to show a bigger environment to connect rather than show people just watching the other shorts on VHS tapes as was done in the first two V/H/S movies.

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The first short is called “Dante The Great” and is the first time that breaks the complete found footage form in the V/H/S series as it is more of a mockumentary about a magician who owns a truly magical cloak. If you have been following the V/H/S series, this short can catch you off guard as it is not completely found footage and features interview throughout it while cutting to found footage. This short works really well and is the easiest to follow and was fun take on the mockumentary form.

“Parallel Monsters” is a short that involves alternate dimensions as a man opens a door to an alternate dimension that seems almost the same to ours but slowly as he explores it and switches with his alternate dimensional double, is not as similar as once thought. The characters in this short only speak Spanish which adds a new cultural flair that is done quite well. This short is the most detailed in terms of showing how weird the alternate world is that is being explored of the 3 shorts in V/H/S: Viral, not counting the overarching “Vicious Circles.”

The final short is entitled “Bonestorm” and shows some teenage skateboarders who venture down to Tijuana to film a skating video with a combination of regular video cameras and GoPro cameras. Things get out of hand when the area they are skating attracts some unwanted pagan worshippers.  This short was very action packed and didn’t have any lull points and used the short amount of time to its full potential. The actors gave great performances and the special effects that are needed later in the short are quite impressive.

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Overall, V/H/S: Viral is a good, not great, addition to the V/H/S series. While it still has a smaller distrubution method due to the studio putting it out, Magnet Releasing, which is limited on its resources on getting this movie to the public. Fans who have seen the previous two entries will enjoy this addition to the series. Those who are new to the series might need time adjusting to its scattered nature of being an anthology film that doesn’t transition easily between the stories it is telling.

V/H/S: Viral will be available on Video On Demand on October 23 and in select theaters on November 6.

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Stay tuned for reviews from Day 3 tomorrow!


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Individual tickets are on sale now at twincitiesfilmfest.org


Have you seen any of these films? What did you think?

TCFF 2014 Day 2 – Interview with Haley Lu Richardson

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One of my fave parts of blogging for TCFF is the opportunity to meet talents whose films are playing at the film fest. Most especially when you meet someone as talented, vivacious and gracious as Haley Lu Richardson.

She has two VERY different films, one is an apocalyptic thriller, The Well, and the other is a teen pregnancy comedy, The Young Kieslowski. That alone is a major accomplishment, but even more so the fact that The Well is her feature film debut. Now, I have seen the latter and no doubt the 19-year-old is a talented young actress poised for stardom.

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Haley in The Well and The Young Kieslowski

Screen charisma is not something an actor can really train for and Haley’s got that in spades. What impresses me most is her versatility, which is what every good actor should have in their arsenal. So check out how Haley got her start and what role she’d like to tackle on next.


FCInterviewBannerI arrived about 10 min early and she was already there as her previous interview got done early. Even at 9:30 in the morning, she’s already looking fresh and bubbly that I immediately feel comfortable chatting with you. I knew it’d be a fun interview, but of course life is not complete without snafus once in a while right? Well, I might’ve had too much fun chatting with her that for whatever reason, either I didn’t turn on my iPhone recorder properly or I accidentally deleted our conversation but that’s what happened. Ah well, so I had to do my best transcribing from my notes and memory ;)

Q: So Haley, ow did you get into acting?

A: I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, got into competitive dancing and was into that for a while. [per IMDb, She was a member of Cannedy Performing Arts competitive dance company for 8 years and has won prestigious titles such as 'National Dancer of the Year" and the 'Peoples Choice Award' at the Young Artist's competition.] And with dancing, there’s a bit of emoting required as you’re performing, which makes me think about going into acting. So I had a long talk with my parents over the dinner table. I even made a Powerpoint citing the pros and cons about going into the acting business, etc. Fortunately they’re quite supportive and in 2011, my mother and I moved to LA so I could pursue acting. I was also lucky that I was able to secure an agent that got me into some projects. I did a TV movie called Christmas Twister and a few TV projects before I got the chance to audition for The Well.

Q: How was that audition process go for The Well?

A: Normally the audition goes through casting agents and/or through a talent agency but at the time I was so hungry for work that I submitted my tape to an online casting site and though they normally don’t go that route in finding talents, somehow they found me.

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Q: Your character Kendal rarely says what she’s thinking. She is a doer, not a talker. How do you come to approach that kind of character?

Tom [Director Thomas S. Hammock] and Jacob [writer Jacob Forman] and I had a long chat about the story and character, they really took the time to help me get into Kendal’s head. Plus the setting in a barren landscape of the Mojave Desert [about 4 hours north of LA] looks like a real dystopian place so that definitely helps me get into the mindset of a girl trying to survive.

Q: How much training did you do for the action sequences, was that hard to get to do all the fight scenes? 

Yes, it was pretty intense. I had never held a gun before in my life and it’s really quite scary. I had to practice in the shooting range and even though you’re shooting blanks, I’m still fully aware what a dangerous weapon it was. It’s also quite heavy and I had to shoot several rounds. Whenever I’m walking around though, I usually just carry the plastic thing, but when I’m filming a scene, I had to use a real gun with blanks.

Q: There have been several dystopian young adult movies produced over the last several years. Apart from The Well doubling as a revenge tale, what did you do to make sure The Well was different from the other projects?

I think there are definitely similarities in that movies like Hunger Games, Divergent, etc. deal with a young person being put into a situation where they have to fend for themselves. But I’d say that The Well is a quieter movie. There’s not non-stop action or explosions, but a lot of time for the character to reflect on things and the music is also understated to help set the mood. I think it’s a more intimate and even personal film, as it’s more about Kendal’s journey and how she must protect the last remaining well in order for her to survive

Q: Now moving on to your second film The Young Kieslowski, how did you get this part, did you have to audition for the role of Leslie Mallard also?

Fortunately, the same producer [Seth Caplan] that did The Well offered me the part as I was working on that film. And since the stories are so different, that appealed to me. I then met with the writer/director Kerem Sanga and he agreed to cast me, so that was great! Then it took some time for us to cast the role of Brian Kieslowski so it’s cool to be on the other side, the fact that I was already cast. So I had to read with these other actors. I don’t think I had much say in the casting of Brian but I think we knew early on Ryan Malgarini was perfect for the part. He had the right look, down to his hair and everything.

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Q: The Young Kieslowski is centered on Ryan Malagrini’s character, Brian. You are given significantly less screen time. Yet, you make Leslie as multi-dimensional as the male protagonist. What did you focus on doing as you played Leslie?

If I think too much about a certain character then I think it would screw me up. I don’t know that I’ve ever totally become someone else I’m playing, there’s always a bit of me in that character, even if I had never been in her situation, y’know, I never went to college nor have I ever been pregnant. It’s a pretty emotionally challenging role but I just tried to imagine what it’d be like being in her shoes, having to grow up faster than normal given the circumstances. 

The story is actually a personal one for [director] Kerem as his parents had him and his twin brother in college. So he definitely helps me a lot in processing the story and what he wants out of the character.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Q: How was filming that childbirth scene like? Were you nervous about filming that?

No actually that’s one of the main reasons I signed on to do this film. I saw it as kind of a challenge, wow I got to give birth! My parents and I actually watched all these real childbirth videos for research. Filming the scene itself was also a lot of fun to do. The woman who was helping me in the delivery room was actually a pediatrician so she helped me figure out what to do. My voice was gone by the end of filming as I was screaming so much, but it was a lot of fun filming that scene. 

One of the most challenging part is actually wearing the pregnancy suit as they weigh it to make sure it looks realistic. It was really heavy and Kerem had me go up and down the stairs so I get the wobbly walk right and everything.

Q: Ok, last question, but I’m curious that now that you’ve done a futuristic dystopian thriller, a drama and comedy, so what genre or certain role are you interested in tackling next?

A: I like stories that felt real, playing someone you can relate to. So not something too out of this world or improbable. I’d love to play a drug addict, a transformative role that I can really sink my teeth into. 

 


 Check out Haley’s Films at TCFF

The Well

Sat Oct. 18th, 8:30pm


The Young Kieslowski

Sun, Oct. 19th, 3:00pm


Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, Haley.
I wish you all the best in your career!

RuthHaley


Hope you enjoyed the interview. Stay tuned for Day 2 reviews tomorrow!

TCFF 2014 Opening Night Festivities + ‘Men, Women & Children’ review

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Today’s the day! The fifth annual Twin Cities Film Fest kicked off with the Minnesota premiere of Jason Reitman’s latest drama, Men, Women & Children. As he always does year after year, TCFF Executive Director Jatin Setia introduced the film and asked the packed audience to give him a five to commemorate our fifth year bringing the film fest to cinephiles and casual moviegoers alike in the Twin Cities and beyond!

Jatin also pointed out the social cause that our film fest bring to the community since year one, when the social theme of the year was education, hence Waiting for Superman was the opening night film back in 2010. We’ve since introduced a CHANGEMAKER series, with the tagline ‘Watch. Learn. Act.’ Check out this FREE event on Friday, Oct 24 at 6:30 event, presenting “Breaking Free from the Life” documentary, followed by Survivor Panel event at Showplace ICON Theatre Lobby.

OldFashioned2015Early in the evening, just before the first screening of the year, I had the privilege of chatting with Rik Swartzwelder, the writer/director/star of Old Fashioned, which will have two showings at TCFF! I’m glad we’re showing a film like this, a classic romance where two people attempt the impossible … an “old-fashioned” courtship in contemporary America. Now that is rare indeed in today’s culture. I really enjoyed our conversation, so stay tuned for the full interview transcript later this week!

Here are some pics from tonight’s festivities:

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And lookie here… the lovely Haley Lu Richardson, who’s got not one but TWO films screening at TCFF, is in town and having a blast! Looking forward to chattin’ with her tomorrow morning :D


Can’t help joining on the fun, too w/ my pal Julie :D

 


Now on to the first TCFF review of the year…

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Men, Women and Children (2014)

Jason Reitman has a knack for portraying interesting [read: quirky] relationships in his films. This is his sixth feature film and once again he explores relationships and its predicaments. This time it’s set in the age of the internet, as Emma Thompson narrates throughout the film whilst we’re shown views of earth from space. The film is a blatant commentary of how we are inevitably affected by the enormous social change that comes through digital devices such as our phones, tablets, laptops, etc. that many of us can’t live without. Nobody is immune, as the title of the film says, the internet affects every man, woman and child [except perhaps the Amish people] and alters how we deal/view relationships with each other.

It’s a topic that’s as relevant and timely as ever, and the concept itself is appealing because most of us today can relate to this. Alas, I don’t think the execution quite hit the mark here. The performances are good but somehow the story took too long to built, and in the end it just wasn’t as engaging as I’d have liked it to be. Right away the theme of the film reminds me of Disconnect which also deals with how ‘disconnected’ we have become in an age where everything is readily available to us at the touch of a button. That film isn’t perfect either but I think it did a better job in telling the story and made us care for the characters.

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Except for a few, most of the characters don’t feel real to me, they’re more caricatures painted with such broad strokes of opposite extremes. One set of parent is waaay too strict about protecting their kids from the danger of the internet, and the other are waaaay too loose that they lose sight of even the most basic societal boundaries are in regards to what/how much one should share online and such. A lot of these characters are so predictable, you expect them to behave in a certain way and voila, they do exactly that. Most of the young actors playing the teens seem so awkward here, and their story lines are too heavy-handed but in the end they’re not fully-realized either.

Adam Sandler gives a restrained performance as one half of a couple in a troubled marriage, with Rosemarie DeWitt playing his bored housewife. Their marriage is as lethargic as the way these interwoven stories are portrayed. Try as I might, the stories just don’t quite captivate me. DeWitt’s scenes with Dennis Haysbert is perhaps one of the most cringe-inducing scenes I’ve seen all year. I know it’s supposed to be awkward given the circumstances, but it’s the way it’s directed that’s problematic, so I don’t blame the actors. It’s too bad as I like DeWitt as an actress and I think Sandler does have dramatic chops when he choose to use it. I’m more impressed by the secondary characters played by Ansel Elgort, Kaitlyn Dever and Dean NorrisJennifer Garner is as dour and stern as I’ve never seen her before, playing an overprotective & controlling mother that undoubtedly produces the opposite effect of what she’s trying to achieve.

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The use of music is a bit odd too, sometimes the songs played are so loud that it felt jarring, and others there’s not a single sound as the camera zooms in on an actor’s face with no word is spoken. The visuals are as somber as the stories, the muted color palette just isn’t aesthetically pleasing here. But the look of the film is the least of the its problems. I just think Reitman, who’s a gifted filmmaker who’s made terrific work such as Thank You For Smoking and Up in the Air, is trying too hard here in striving to be profound and philosophical. Now, the themes presented here certainly are thought-provoking and the idea that face-to-face human relationships just can’t be replaced by technology isn’t lost on me. I just wish the film were more engaging as I found myself looking at my watch a few times, even as the last third did improve a bit in terms of pacing. Perhaps a more straight-forward approach and injecting a bit more humor into this might’ve made the film more palatable and entertaining. It’s not a terrible film per se, but I expected a lot better from Reitman.

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Well that’s it for Day 1 folks, stay tuned for more TCFF coverage in the coming days!