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).


Steve 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!

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?

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?

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 Indies Reviews: Touched With Fire + All the Time in the World + Band of Robbers

With just one day left in Twin Cities Film Fest, and I’m still playing catch up on reviewing the films I’ve seen so far! There’s still a few reviews I haven’t got around to, believe it or not. But I think I’ve done double the amount of posts I had last year, and definitely the most in my six years covering TCFF!


Touched With Fire


This film seems to be made as a love letter to the artists and creative people with bipolar disorder. The opening scenes introduced us to Carla and Marco in their manic state and how they ended up in the psychiatric hospital. Though they didn’t get off on the right foot initially, the two ended up bonding over a series of sleepless nights, and it’s inevitable they fall in love.

Touched With Fire is based on a book by clinical psychologist Kay Redfield JamisonTouched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, which is her exploration of how bipolar disorder can run in artistic or high-achieving families. Jamison herself suffered from bipolar and was put into lithium medication. She had a cameo in the film sharing about her illness to the characters.

The film follow the journey of the two protagonists in the hospital, being separated by force and transitioning into living in the outside world. Naturally, their families have objections about the two starting a relationship, let alone living together. They think they’re a bad influence to each other, especially since one of them refuse to take their medication. I think it’s a moving portrait of a love story between two people suffering from manic depressive illness. The film is beautifully-shot and peppered with humor throughout. Kudos to writer/director Paul Dalio that depite the subject matter, the film never descend into sullen or depressing territory. Ultimately the two have to choose between sanity and love, and the bittersweet finale that tugs my heartstrings.


I have to admit I didn’t think of Katie Holmes when I saw the role of Carla, but to her credit she did a terrific job in the role. I was equally impressed with Luke Kirby as I don’t remember seeing him in anything before. The two didn’t have the strongest chemistry together, but the direction somehow made it work to sell that they share such extreme passion. I also think the actors portray their characters’ bipolar condition with such sensitivity and credibility.

There are some slow moments and perhaps the film could’ve been tightly edited, but overall it’s wonderfully-acted and the script is quite engaging. This is another compelling directorial debut from Paul Dalio. Fans of many artists that the film is dedicated to, especially Vincent Van Gogh, will especially appreciate this film. I was surprised how many famous artists are listed before the end credits.


All the Time in the World


All the Time in the World,” having its world premiere at the Twin Cities Film Fest, is a locally-produced film. One of the goals of this film festival is to give local artists a voice. In that vein, this film succeeds. Unfortunately, as a movie it does not. Produced at Crown College in St. Bonifacius, it was written and directed by Nickolaus Swedlund and stars Drew Zoromski as Drew and Katie Thies as Katie. Perhaps the lack of creativity with the character’s names should have been my first clue.
The movie focuses on Drew, a college senior lost after a serious knee injury ends his football career followed closely by his girlfriend breaking up with him. (“Well, that’s cold,” I remember thinking about the girlfriend.) It starts slowly with endless scenes of Drew and Katie studying in the library and walking through fields having inane conversations. (“I don’t even like good macaroni and cheese…” is one of the most, or should I say, least memorable lines.)
And then it gets even slower, showing Drew and his buddies hanging out and driving around. “I hear you talking but it’s just…noise,” Drew says at one point to his friends. Well said, Drew. I think most people can remember being in college and having that giant question hanging over them. (“Do something with your life,” one of Drew’s professors implores.)
I get that college is often more abstract in the academic world, and in that way this movie works. But for the most part, people’s everyday lives just aren’t that interesting.  Zoromski does an admirable job with what he has to work with in this film and he definitely gets a lot of experience giving the camera long, pensive looks. In the director’s notes Swedlund writes that “film is also about the process not the product.” Gosh I hope so.


Band of Robbers


Band of Robbers promises to give moviegoers a chance to hang out with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as adults. Will it be a show like “Wicked,” which adds a surprising layer of depth to an already well-known story and provides a fresh take on a classic tale, or will it ruin some of Mark Twain’s most iconic literary characters? I’m happy to say the film that recently had its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival is definitely the former.

This absurdly funny crime caper stars Kyle Gallner as Huck Finn and Adam Nee as Tom Sawyer and was written and directed by brothers Aaron and Adam Nee. We pick up the story with the characters on opposite sides of the law: Huck Finn has recently been released from prison, while Tom Sawyer is on the police force…but now that Huck is free, Tom hatches a new plan for mayhem and mischief involving a hidden treasure.

The story is well-written, with numerous plot twists to keep the audience guessing, and the pacing of the film is superb – during the 95-minute film I never felt as though the plot was dragging. Fans of the books will also appreciate some of the subtle references – for example, in one scene Huck is laying on the grass smoking what looks like a corn cob pipe.


But what really makes this movie shine is the deadpan delivery of the film’s shenanigans – Adam Nee is so mischievously endearing as Tom Sawyer you can’t help but root for him – and it makes me wonder if the Nee brothers watched a lot of the “Naked Gun” movies growing up. One thing to note about “Band of Robbers” though is that it is not a movie for kids as there is a fair amount of violence and foul language. As Tom Sawyer says in the middle of the movie, “This is typical classic pirate bull****.”


Here’s what’s coming up on the final day of TCFF! 

What do you think about either one of these films?


TCFF 2015 Short Film Reviews Part I – ‘Land Of 10,000 Stories’ Shorts Block + Documentary Short ‘Even The Walls’


Great things do come 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 Land of 10,000 Stories shorts block, and one documentary short Even the Walls that is part of this year’s social cause of homelessness. Thanks Sarah J. for these reviews!


These are all part of the
Land Of 10,000 Stories Shorts Block

Between Friends 


After watching The Detectives of Noir Town and remarking how some things are just funny when puppets are involved, I decided I was sensing a theme for this year’s Twin Cities Film Fest. Between Friends, the short film created by members of the St. Cloud State University community and written and directed by John Scott, the executive director of the St. Cloud Film Fest, was shot entirely in Minnesota. As if to prove their connection to the north star state, the film’s stars are Linda Gustafson (Ida), Gunther Gullickson (Edwin) and Darlene Johnson (Rose). I am not making this up.

Gustafson and Johnson star as two elderly tenants of a run down apartment building constantly harassed by their landlord. “He is such a bully!” one of them exclaims early in the 11 minute movie. Will they take matter into their own hands? Watching two old ladies hatching a plot to kill will bring a smile to your face, whether you live in Minnesota or not. “Oh, think of the mess…” says one of them when they consider getting a gun. “Hmm, and I’ve seen enough ‘Matlock’ to know they can trace poison…” Like The Detectives of Noir Town, there is just something humorous and endearing when it comes out of the mouths of women with ‘Fargo’ accents that could be your grandmother.

The Whitefish Yacht Club


Yes, it’s silly. But it should play well in Minnesota – what would you do if you found a severed foot on your boat? “The Whitefish Yacht Club,” a new short film directed by John Gigrich, stars Alyssa Rae (Kelly Whitefish) and Carley Johnson (Britney Whitefish) as the Whitefish sisters, Bryan Porter (the aptly named Derik Plem – you’ll find out why during the show) as the hapless dock boy and Sondra Glynn (Ella Beauguns) as the friend with a plan.

Although the script can be overly dramatic (at one point, a wide eyed Britney turns to Kelly and remarks that “If any of our enemies find out about this they will surely destroy us all!”) it’s clear the actors had fun making this six-minute ode to one of Minnesota’s favorite pastimes. I did chuckle at a couple of the references – about half way through Derik shouts, “You go get us some Guggenheim scissors!” What the heck are Guggenheim scissors? But maybe a more important question is, does it matter? If the actors and creator set out to take the audience on a quick trip through a zany story they succeeded.

Snail Mail


Who gets a personal letter from someone overseas? Yeah, me neither. “Snail Mail,” the delightful, albeit, very short film from Director/Writer Josh Mruz, highlights one guy’s wait for a letter from a girl he met on a train.

The few scenes are well done – in one, Jordan (Nathan Tymoshuk), fills up his garbage can with paper trying to find the perfect words to respond to a letter from England. In another, junk mail flies as he searches for that one piece of real mail. Twin Cities audiences will also appreciate the panoramas of the metro area as he waits for a reply.



First things first – Ostara is the Wiccan spring equinox celebration. It’s a fitting title for the new short film by Director/Writer Katherine Gorringe, a St. Paul native and recent graduate of Stanford University’s documentary film MFA program. In “Ostara,” we meet Jan, who is having a rebirth of sorts as she is released from prison after 20 years and strives to reconnect with her adult daughter. She also struggles with carrying on her spiritual traditions after being separated from fellow Wiccans – “The first thing we did coming together was asking for positive energy and grabbed hands. It gave me strength,” she shares.

This 11-minute film works because it provides us with just a glimpse into her life at a moment in time, while being sprinkled with facts to help you understand her background. (Jan was in prison after killing her abusive partner and states that 98% of the women in jail with her were molested, raped or in domestic violence situations.) It ends with you wanting to check in with her in a year or so and find out how it is going, which is always a good sign for a moviegoer.

Even The Walls

What makes a neighborhood? Even the Walls, a short documentary written and directed by Sarah Kuck and Saman Maydani, features residents of Yesler Terrace, a public housing neighborhood in Seattle, as its residents grapple with the oncoming forces of gentrification. With a bevy of financial resources flowing into this Pacific Northwest city, the area is in the eye of the bulldozer to become a mixed income development with 5,000 residences, a million square feet of technical and medical space and 16 acres of open space.

The filmmakers do a good job in taking a global issue and making it local – throughout the film you meet residents who have lived at Yesler Terrace for more than 50 years. They explore the idea of recognizing what a community creates even if it has no market value. At 27 minutes, it’s somewhat longer than other short films at the Twin Cities Film Fest, but shorter than a feature film. There were points where residents were shown doing mundane tasks that caused the story to drag. (In one scene, filmmakers show someone brushing their hair for what felt like an eternity. Yes, people brush their hair at their house…I get it.)


Before the world premiere in Seattle earlier this year, Kuck said, “Many people feel gentrification is for the best, and have a difficult time connecting emotionally with why being financially forced to move would be difficult. We see this film as a tool for building empathy.” In that, they have succeeded.


Here’s what’s coming up next on TCFF! 

What do you think about either one of these short films?


TCFF 2015 Day 6 Recap + Reviews: Anomalisa and Too Late


We’ve passed the halfway point of TCFF already, with just four more days to go in the 11-day cinematic festivities. There are still a whole bunch of great films coming in the next few days!

The highlights of the past few days are definitely meeting the talents and filmmakers attending the film fest!


Director Dennis Hauck, John Hawkes & Jatin Setia

It’s especially gratifying to see Alexandria, MN native John Hawkes being honored with a North Star Award for Excellence after the screening of his film Too Late (review below). TCFF will screen other Hawkes films, including Winter’s Bone and Me and You and Everyone We Know“It’s our version of the lifetime achievement award,” TCFF executive director Jatin Setia said of the North Star Award for Excellence. “It’s a brilliant, brilliant body of work thus far in his career.” Amen to that. I had hoped he’d be nominated for his performance in The Sessions, which also screened at TCFF in 2012.



This is one of the most anticipated screenings at TCFF and the theater is packed. The film has received unanimously positive reviews out of other major film festivals, and Charlie Kaufman is a beloved writer/director. I’m not terribly well-versed in his work however, having just seen Adaptation, but I’m definitely familiar with his work. I think it’s safe to say he is one of those writers with a distinct style that it’s more of an acquired taste. Anomalisa is his first stop-motion film and it’s definitely not an animated feature for kids. It deals with a rather heavy subject matter about a man crippled by the mundanity of his life.

As the film opens with the protagonist Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis) on a plane, I was immediately amazed by how good the stop-motion quality. Though the lines of the puppets’ faces are left in, the expressions are quite realistic and even the skin textures and hair are meticulously done. The eyes are especially interesting to look at, as they truly convey human emotion. Kudos to Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson for crafting something that, despite not actually having real people in it, has a very human story about existensial crisis.


This is the only still image I can find of this film

Michael seems to be one of those people who have it all (as is the case in many Kaufman’s stories), he’s a successful customer service expert with a best-selling book ‘How Can I Help You Help Them?’ He’s in town in Cincinnati for a conference, and it’s apparent he’s very disillusioned with his soul-sucking corporate job. The film takes place mostly in a single night in an upscale but impersonal hotel that only aggravates Michael’s feeling of isolation. To illustrate the humdrum life seen through Michael’s eyes, everyone else he comes across (both men & women) have the same voice, voiced by Tom Noonan. That is until later on in the film when he meets a fretful customer service rep staying on his floor named Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh). She struggles with self esteem, always thinking that she’s not at all special, but Michael assures her she is unlike any other he’s ever met… anomalous Lisa, hence the film’s title.

To say that the film is bizarre is putting it mildly. But it’s to be expected from Kaufman, and there’s definitely surreal elements in the way the story unfold. It’s also hilarious in parts, most notably when Lisa sang a Cindy Lauper song for Michael. The sexual themes are prevalent right from the start, with Michael witnessing a guy in the next building masturbating and later we see a fully-realized sex scene. The scene is eerily realistic and not at all comedic, which is a technical feat considering it’s puppetry. I have to say it creeps me out a bit and I bet I’m not the only one squirming in my seat watching that.

I also find that though I can relate with the theme of isolation and loneliness, it was hard for me to get into the character who is downright unlikable and frankly, unrelatable. I remember a line from the documentary A New High that plays on TCFF’s opening night where a character said ‘Though life doesn’t always go my way, I choose joy’ and throughout the film I felt that life is about what we make of it and Michael chooses to dwell on the banality of his life.

Ultimately, Anomalisa is a film I appreciate and even admire, but not love. It just doesn’t connect with me emotionally, and I find the petulant manner of its hero aggravating. But on a technical level, the animation quality is top notch, given its relatively small budget (crowd-funded via Kickstarter), that is no small feat. It lives up to its title in that there is nothing else like it, a uniquely-told and crafted existensial drama that no doubt will get people talking for years to come. How profound this film really is however, is up to the viewer, but I think Kaufman’s fans will be pleased with this one.


Too Late


Good things come in small packages. Last night, Twin Cities Film Fest attendees were treated not only to a new indie film noir starring Minnesota native John Hawkes but also a post-show Q&A with the actor and writer/director Dennis Hauck. It’s always interesting to see actors in person after you see them on screen, and my usual reaction is how much smaller they are in person. But I digress.


Too Late, Hauck’s debut feature film, stars the Alexandria-born (and Oscar nominated) Hawkes as Mel Sampson, an L.A. private detective haunted by his past. In a recent Star Tribune article, the author said Hawkes has a history of playing bleak characters (“Winter’s Bone,” “The Sessions”) and this one is no different…but he plays them so well. The film begins and ends in a very “Pulp Fiction” type fashion (and then, as if to prove the connection, Robert Forster, star of Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, came on screen while I was thinking this) with a mix of the romanticism of Once thrown in the middle.


If you’re confused it’s okay because that’s not really the point. Not to say this movie doesn’t have a coherent plot (it’s one of those you want to watch again once you reach the end to get everything straight) but I found myself wondering what would happen next. Part of this is because the movie was shot with only five, single shot, uninterrupted scenes. (The film is about 100 minutes long so each “section” of the movie is about 20 minutes.) In the post-show Q&A Hauck talked about how the camera equipment was often too heavy for one person to handle for 20 minutes so there are slight jiggles in each scene where the camera was shifted from one camera person to another. Yes, in addition to the story, this movie is a treasure trove of unique filmmaking.


Taking the classic tapestry of old Hollywood from the beginning scene overlooking the city to the middle scene in a projection room at an old drive through, the cinematography of shooting this movie on 35mm film adds to its appeal. I also found it to be expertly cast – Hawkes injects his world weary character with a sweet, unassuming charm (in the post-show Q&A Haucks mentioned that he wrote the script with Hawkes in mind) and Crystal Reed (Dorothy) and Dichen Lachman (Jill) both avoid the “stripper with a heart of gold” mentality to give their characters a relatable depth.

The movie was very well received with the sold-out crowd spontaneously applauding as the credits rolled and I hope it gets wider release as it’s a worthy addition to any moviegoers list.


Here’s what’s coming up next on TCFF! 

What do you think about either one of these films?


Day 4 Review – TCFF 2015 Gala Screening: Youth



This is the first film from Paolo Sorrentino that I saw, as I missed his film The Great Beauty which won an Oscar foreign language winner in 2014. YOUTH is about about two longtime friends vacationing in the Swiss Alps, they’re in their 80s so you could say youth is behind them. Michael Caine plays Fred, an acclaimed composer and conductor, who brings along his daughter (Rachel Weisz) and best friend Mick (Harvey Keitel), a renowned filmmaker.  

Mick is struggling to finish the screenplay with a team of enthusiastic young writers in tow, hoping to make his last film that would perhaps mark his legacy. Fred on the other hand, has left music behind him. The opening scene shows a rather amusing scene of him with a representative of the Royal Family, practically begging Fred to conduct an orchestra for the Queen. 


The whole film is about these two men reflecting on their past in their own strange way. The point was whether each would find out that perhaps youth is really a state of mind, and that the most important experiences might still await them. The resort they’re staying at in the Alps made for some truly breathtaking shots. It could practically be a cinematic promotional brochure for real resort in the Swiss Alps area. The film also have some stunning shots in Rome and Venice.


This is a quintessentially European film, with nonchalant scenes of nudity all around, both young and old. I’ve never seen so many old naked people in a single film before, and honestly, that’s not exactly something I enjoy. I guess it’s probably not a big deal for European filmmakers, I just don’t feel it’s necessary at all. It’s not shocking to me, the full frontal nudity doesn’t serve much purpose. I have to say that there are quite a few bizarre moments on display. Some works, some feels gratuitous. One of the most amusing scenes was when Fred was conducting a bunch of cows in a dream sequence, and later towards the end Mick was haunted by the *ghosts* of all the actresses from his film.


I feel that Sorrentino is more of a visual director, as the imagery are definitely more memorable here than the narrative. I’m not saying there isn’t any emotional scenes, there are a few that come to mind, but the visuals are far more overpowering. The performances are good all around however. I’ve seen Caine in a lot of supporting roles where I feel he’s just phoning it in, so it’s nice to see him deliver a compelling performance and really got into his character. I’m not the biggest Keitel fan but he’s really good here as well.


Rachel Weisz offers a memorable supporting turn in a subplot about her being ditched by her husband. I find that I sympathize with her plight more than the two leading men, and her performance was quite heart-wrenching. There is a heartfelt father/daughter relationship between her and Caine, and there is a memorable conversation between the two of them when they’re both covered up in mud in a spa. Paul Dano proved once again he is one of the best working actors of his generation. He plays a famous actor who’s disillusioned with his career and some of his acting choices. Jane Fonda and Romanian model Madalina Ghenea both had a very memorable cameo, but for two very different reasons. You’ll see it when you see the film and that might serve as not-so-subtle message about youth and growing older.

Overall I was entertained by YOUTH and there are definitely some memorable visuals from start to finish. Whether this film will resonate with me in the long run remains to be seen however, as it didn’t move me as much as I had hoped.


Have you seen YOUTH? Well, let me know what you think!