Everybody’s Chattin’ and Music Break: John Wick Soundtrack

HAPPY [almost] FRIDAY!! I’m gonna combine this month’s Chattin’ post with Music Break as I missed it the past couple of weeks. I’m getting a bit of a blog fatigue lately and I’m behind on a bunch of reviews, so I might do more mini reviews in the next few weeks. I also have two fantastic guest posts from my pals Jack Deth & Daveackackattack on David Mamet and great TV recommendations, so stay tuned!

Well, since Interstellar opens this weekend, I most likely will go see that on Saturday. It’s nearly 3 hrs long, so I don’t feel like seeing it after dinner or I’ll doze off before the first half is over.

So here are what blogger’s been chattin’ about this past week:

Michael eloquently talks about his love for film photography which is increasingly become a lost art today.

OnlyLoversLeftAliveImgI can’t believe I still haven’t seen Only Lovers Left Alive, especially after such a glowing review from Mark , but fortunately I have seen Fight Club, and another Mark, as in Mark Walker illustrates why it’s definitely one of Fincher’s finest

Margaret reviewed Begin Again, which sounds lovely and I can see why she’s crushing on Mark Ruffalo ;)

Stu just caught up on The Act of Killing and I’m glad he appreciated that documentary despite not being the easiest film to watch

Drew on the other hand, is lamenting on how boring and pointless The Rover was, I had no idea Joel Edgerton wrote it!

PrinceSwitching gear to a music post, check out what makes Chris‘ list of Top 10 Songs by Prince 

Lots of new trailers are released this week, check out what you’ve missed on Terrence‘s Trailer Time Thursday

Now this is a list I can get behind… Tom lists 10 actors he avoids in pretty much anything. Wow, I agree with ALL of them, though I still don’t mind Timberlake in a small supporting role

Last but not least, Dan and Ryan have already set their minds on 2015 Blindspot lists, and they’re asking your help to choose 12 movies that you believe they must watch next year

 


Now time for some awesome music …

JohnWickPuppy

… and John Wick’s puppy, cutest movie dog you’ll see this year!

A lot of you already know I love the movie but one of the things I love about it is this cool and dynamic score from Tyler Bates and Joel Richard. It fits the mood and tone so perfectly and it’ll make for an awesome dance party soundtrack! I can’t help tapping my feet and groovin’ to the beat as I’m listening to it. Screencrush said in their John Wick review that Keanu Reeves is “…the kind of star who is still partying like it’s the mid-to-late ’90s, and that’s totally more than okay…” Y’know what, the music certainly has a 90s vibe to it to match the 90s-style action sequences of shooting guns mid air and the likes.

My fave track is the Shots Fired one at the club scene, followed by Red Circle and a slower one about Willem Dafoe’s character, Old Friend Marcus.


Well have a great Friday, everyone! What are you gonna see this weekend?

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Five for the Fifth: NOVEMBER 2014 Edition

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

1. Can’t believe this is already the second to last Five for the Fifth of the year! First off, I want to highlight one of my favorite character actor who’s definitely got the leading-man charisma: Sam Rockwell. The California-born actor turns 46 today.

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I honestly don’t know when I first spotted Rockwell, as I’ve missed out on a lot of his earlier roles in the 90s. But he’s the kind of actor whose presence is always welcomed as he’s so fun to watch. He certainly lives up to his name as he pretty much rocks well in any role.

There’s a chameleonic ability about him that he can effortlessly portray a repulsive killer in The Green Mile and a goofy & paranoid third-rate actor in Galaxy Quest in the same year. I also love his brief performance as a wrongly-convicted felon in Conviction, a flamboyant, surfer-dude type alien in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, as well as a carefree man-child with a heart of gold in The Way Way Back. He’s memorable even in smaller roles in Iron Man 2 as Tony Stark’s rival weapons manufacturer, that’s as equally charming, sarcastic and witty. In fact, his weapons demo is my fave scene of the whole movie! In fact, someone on youtube actually pitches a spinoff of his character Justin Hammer, and you know what, if they make it, I’d watch it! I’m bummed that I missed Laggies last month at TCFF, and I have yet to see Moon as someone spoiled it for me, but I’d still see it at some point just to see his performance.

So what’s your favorite Sam Rockwell role?

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2. I saw a couple of trailers this weekend that piqued my interest. I didn’t realize it until today that both of them have Oscar Isaac in it. I think he’s one talented actor so I’m glad he continues to get a variety of roles that highlight his versatility. Now, first one is A Most Violent Year.

In New York City 1981, an ambitious immigrant fights to protect his business and family during the most dangerous year in the city’s history.

There are many things that piqued my interest. Firstly, I love the pairing of Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain, both Juilliard grads who’ve made good in Hollywood. It’s also cool to see David Oyelowo and Alessandro Nivola here, two underrated actors I wish would get more roles. Secondly, the director is J.C. Chandor, it’s his third film that he wrote as well as directed. I was quite impressed by his debut Margin Call, and his sophomore effort was All Is Lost, a one-man show starring Robert Redford. Let’s hope the film is as gripping as the trailer.

The other one is a sci-fi thriller with yet another man-and-machine theme Ex-Machina.

A young programmer is selected to participate in a breakthrough experiment in artificial intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breathtaking female A.I.

This is the directorial debut of Alex Garland, who wrote 28 Days Later and Sunshine, two of the best sci-fi films that happen to be directed by his frequent collaborator Danny Boyle. Garland also wrote Never Let Me Go which I found really heart-wrenching and thought-provoking. So naturally I’m intrigued by this one and the trailer certainly looks promising. Interesting to see Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander pairing up again after Anna Karenina two years ago.

Does either one of these trailers pique your interest?

3. Happy Movember! The annual mustache-growing event to raise awareness about men’s health issues starts on November 1st. I know there are some folks in my company who does this annually, and as the weather’s turning chillier, I suppose facial hair is like a ‘fur coat for one’s face’ :D

Truth be told, I’m not really a fan of men with mustaches, but some do look good with ‘em and I can’t imagine some actors without their mustache (i.e. Tom Selleck, Nick Offerman, just to name a few). So I thought just for the fun of it, I’d highlight some memorable Movie/TV Mustaches, including several of my own personal favorites.

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So who’s your pick(s) of favorite movie/tv mustaches?
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4. I literally just spotted this as I’m working on the post last night. According to SlashFilm, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has revealed the 20 animated films that have been submitted and will be eligible for up to five nominations for Best Animated Feature Film at next year’s Oscar! Here’s the list:

  • Big Hero 6
  • The Book of Life
  • The Boxtrolls
  • Cheatin
  • Giovanni’s Island
  • Henry and Me
  • The Hero of Color City
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart
  • Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return
  • The Lego Movie
  • Minuscule – Valley of the Lost Ants
  • Mr. Peabody and Sherman
  • Penguins of Madagascar
  • The Pirate Fairy
  • Planes: Fire and Rescue
  • Rio 2
  • Rocks in My Pockets
  • Song of the Sea
  • The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Boy there are SO many I haven’t seen yet but my top 3 are easily The Lego Movie, Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon 2 in that order. Actually, The Lego Movie and Big Hero 6 are pretty much neck and neck for me, as both are REALLY fun, heartwarming and simply a fantastic piece of entertainment.

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I talked about Song of the Sea back in June, but sadly I haven’t seen it yet. I’m also curious about The Book of Life which has been getting some good reviews. As for the rest, some of them I’ve never even heard of and some I simply have no interest in seeing [I’m looking at you Planes: Fire & Rescue].

So which three of these 20 animated features are you rooting for?

5. This month Five for the Fifth’s guest is Josh from The Cinematic Spectacle blog!

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The topic is on ensemble-cast movies from the past year. I know I’ve brought up this topic back in April in this discussion about which ensemble cast that fail to deliver. It was inspired by my viewing of All Things To All Men which totally waste talents the likes of Gabriel Byrne, Rufus Sewell and my personal fave Toby Stephens! Of course there are many other ensemble cast movies released in 2014, i.e. Monuments Men, This is Where I Leave You, Grand Budapest Hotel, Expendables 3, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, FURY, Men Women and Children, just to name a few. It’s an eclectic list and some obviously work better than others. But perhaps, some films are still worth seeing just for the cast alone, and sometimes a particular ensemble can actually elevate a so-so film.

So, Josh would like to know … what are your favorite ensemble casts of 2014? 


Well, that’s it for the November 2014 edition of Five for the Fifth, folks. Now, please pick a question out of the five above or better yet, do ‘em all! :D

FlixChatter Review: John Wick

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‘Don’t judge a movie by its trailers,’ That’s a saying I often live by, for better or for worse. But in the case of John Wick‘s trailer, which was groan and eye roll-inducing the first time I saw it, I’m glad I ignored my first instinct and saw it anyway.

The movie is as lean as its protagonist, the eternally-youthful 50-year-old man that is Keanu Reeves. It’s lean in running time (1 hr 36 min), dialog, as well as plot. The movie keeps things simple and doesn’t try to be anything else but a stylized revenge thriller. All you need to know is that John Wick is a former mob hit man who re-emerges after 5-year retirement when some dumb punks break into his house and kill his dog given by his late wife.

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The swift exposition reveals that those punks are actually the son of his former employer, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist). John Leguizamo‘s great in his brief scene as Aureilo, a car shop owner frequented by the thugs who’s also friends with Wick.

Viggo: Why did you strike my son?
Aureilo: He stole John Wick’s car and killed his dog.
Viggo: Oh.

The over-the-top way the movie tells us the protagonist is entertaining and hilarious. The filmmakers – former stunt professionals David Leitch and Chad Stahelski – are in on the joke and they’re smart enough NOT to take things too seriously for this type of action flicks. I read a review from a top critic that says action flick is about movement and given the stunts background of the filmmaker, they certainly subscribe to that adage. I remember critics described the stylized action of Zack Snyder’s 300 as the ballet of death. Here we’ve got the bullet ballet of Gun Fu, which is a martial-arts fighting in close-quarters with firearms that’s common in Hong Kong action cinema. It reminds me of John Woo’s style, but without the doves. Though the style is not exactly groundbreaking, it somehow still feels fresh and a heck of a lot of fun!

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People keep asking me if I’m back…. yeah I’m thinking I’m back

One of the secret ingredients of this movie is no doubt its leading man. Say what you will about Keanu Reeves but he’s got screen charisma. And not only that, he can effortlessly earn our sympathy, which is essential in any revenge fantasy. John Wick may be ruthless, but he’s not heartless and that layer of vulnerability is what Keanu often brings to even his most action-packed roles. His brooding, taciturn and trademark stoic mode is put to good use, as well as his physical prowess in pulling off those action stunts. I’ve always liked Keanu and I really don’t think he’s ever *left* even with the recent big flop of 47 Ronin. All the supporting cast like Willem Dafoe and Ian McShane did a good job despite not having much to do. The two that stood out to me were Lance Reddick in his brief appearance as the hotel manager frequented by hitmen, and Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist who actually makes for a memorable villain this time around. He’s so lame in Mission Impossible 4, but here he displays a genuine sinister side with a sarcastic sense of humor. I also like the fact that Viggo is kind of a reluctant bad guy, he doesn’t really want to fight Wick but he knows he has to. The only character I don’t care for is Adrianne Palicki‘s Mrs. Perkins which is totally unnecessary. It’s as if the filmmakers just want to have a femme-fatale character in here thrown for good measure.

JohnWick_Still4In case you can’t tell already from my review, yes I enjoyed this movie! Armed with gorgeous cinematography by Jonathan Sela, Tyler Bates‘ dynamic soundtrack (who did a great job scoring 300 as well), and bad-ass & kinetic action set pieces, I’m glad I saw this one on the big screen. The action stuff looks gritty and actually fun to watch, sans the dizzying quick cuts or extreme slo-mo that plague most action movies these days. It’d look great in IMAX too I bet, though seeing all those exploding heads and limbs getting stabbed in such a huge screen would’ve been too much for me. Given how violent it is though, the movie is actually not that gory. The gunfights are done in quick succession and there’s no lingering open wounds that make your stomach churn. Still, the scene after scene of carnage does make me wince at times, but hey, it comes with the territory.

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This movie should please action fans with its unabashed love for thrilling, preposterous action and no-nonsense storyline. Again, it doesn’t try to be deep or philosophical, the protagonist just wants to get back to those who wronged him. Pure and simple, the only moral of the story is, ‘don’t mess with John Wick!’ The ending is ripe for a sequel and you know what, I wouldn’t mind seeing it if Leitch/Chad Stahelski and Keanu are involved.

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Have you seen this? Well, what did you think?

Monthly Recap, Top 5 Picks from TCFF 2014 + Fave Movie(s) of OCTOBER

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Happy November, everyone! Oh what a whirlwind October it’s been, but you won’t hear me complain about the weather as the past few weeks we’ve had one of the best Autumn weather ever. In fact, the entire Twin Cities Film Fest run, the weather was in one word, glorious. Temp was in mid 60s – low 70s, which in my book is absolutely perfect!

Well I think it’s obvious that TCFF was the highlight of my blogging time this month. It’s especially awesome that I got a chance to chat with some filmmakers and cast. Scroll down below to check out the complete recaps of the 10-day festivities!

Posts you might’ve missed:


Top 5 Fave Movies Seen at TCFF

TCFF_Top5_YoungKieslowskiThe Young Kieslowski

TCFF_Top5_OldFashionedOld Fashioned

TCFF_Top5_FlyingPaper

Flying Paper DocTCFF_Top5_ImitationGame

The Imitation Game [Review Upcoming]

TCFF_Top5_TimeLapse

Time Lapse [Review upcoming, but check out my interview
w/ its filmmaker Bradley King & actor George Finn]

TCFF 2014 Recaps

  1. TCFF 2014 Opening Night Festivities + ‘Men, Women & Children’ review
  2. TCFF 2014 Day 2 – Interview with Haley Lu Richardson
  3. TCFF 2014 Day 2 Reviews: Father-Like Son, The Last Time You Had Fun, V/H/S: Viral
  4. TCFF 2014 Day 3 Reviews: These Hopeless Savages, 3 Nights in the Desert, The Well and House of Manson
  5. TCFF 2014 Day 4: Wild Canaries, Just Before I Go & double reviews of The Young Kieslowski
  6. TCFF 2014 Interview with Rik Swartzwelder, Writer/Director/Star of Old Fashioned
  7. TCFF 2014 Day 5 & 6: Reviews of ‘Evil, Enemies & Aliens’ Shorts Block + Solitude
  8. TCFF 2014 Day 7: Romance Double Bill – Old Fashioned & Comet
  9. TCFF 2014 – Interview with Ink & Steel Filmmakers/Cast
  10. TCFF 2014 Interview with Bradley King & George Finn for sci-fi thriller Time Lapse
  11. TCFF 2014 Documentary Reviews: Stray Dog, Flying Paper, Where The Trail Ends & One Good Year
  12. TCFF 2014 Wrap Up & Final Awards: The Imitation Game, Time Lapse, Stray Dog Doc, Solitude & More!

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New-to-me Movies outside of TCFF lineup:

I saw the last three in 48 hours, in fact I saw Big Hero 6 exactly an hour after my Foxcatcher screening. I’m glad that’s the case though, as I really needed something light and vibrant to shake off the dark and morose tone of Foxcatcher. Stay tuned for my interview with director

I’m still behind on a few reviews from the last couple of days of TCFF, but I should have all these reviews done in the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately, with the crazy schedule of the Film Fest, I was unable to complete my Blindspot assignment of the month. Ah well, something’s gotta give I suppose. I probably will have 10 out of the 12 Blindspot films completed by end of the year, so I’ll just include the two I miss in my next year’s list.

Favorite Movies of October 2014:

I’m going to choose films that are NOT part of TCFF lineup, and it’s quite a tough one as there are some truly awesome movies I saw this past month. After much deliberation, it comes down to a tie of two completely different films. I love that when that happens! :D Stay tuned for my reviews of both of these, but if you’re on the fence about either one of these for whatever reason, I urge you to check both of ‘em out.

Citizenfour_BigHero6

Citizenfour is one of the most intriguing and gripping documentaries I’ve seen in a long time. Whether you think of Edward Snowden is a hero or criminal, this is such an important documentary that should be seen by anyone who has ever been online [and really, unless you're Amish, who hasn't?]. Big Hero 6 on the other hand, is so entertaining and so full of heart it’s easily one of my top animated features now. Definitely another winner from Disney, it’s just pure exhilarating fun and I love that it would inspire kids to explore their imagination and dream big.


So, what movies did you get to see in October and which one is your favorite?

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10 Brilliant Acting Performances Defined by One Look

I LOVE LOVE this idea from Brittani that I came across earlier this week that I had to take part.

“Sometimes a simple look an actor gives is nothing short of brilliant,”

I totally agree with her sentiment. Sometimes the quietest, most subtle look or gesture has the power to generate the most emotional response, no words necessary.

It made me think of some of those scenes and really, there are SO many examples that it’s tough to narrow it down to just 10. The fact that I remember these scenes despite the length of time that’s passed since I’ve seen it means they definitely left a big impression on me. In fact, from time to time I still look on youtube to watch that particular scene again. Ok so technically there are 11 here, as I paired up one of them, but I think it still count as one as it happens in the exact same scene where the two actors interact with each other. Anyway, here goes:

Christian Bale in Equilibrium

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I always have a fondness for this dystopian sci-fi thriller despite its flaws. Bale’s Preston came too late to save the woman he loves from being incinerated… and he had to watch her die right in front of him. Bale’s expression of utter despair just breaks my heart. It’s one of my favorite Bale performances from all the amazing work he’s done, even if the film itself is far from perfect.

Emily Blunt – Jane Austen Book Club

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I LOVE miss Blunt and she adds so much gravitas and emotional complexity to her character of a French teacher going through an unhappy marriage. She’s just about to have a rendezvous at a motel with a hot, young student but something precludes her from taking another step. I don’t remember much about the entire film but I always remember this scene.

Toby Stephens – Jane Eyre (BBC – 2006)
Toby_JaneEyreI have to include at least one out of a plethora of Toby’s masterful scenes as Rochester. The no-wedding scene is definitely one of the most emotionally-charged. Rochester’s anguish is so palpable here when ‘bride in the attic’ secret’s been revealed. He was so close to finally be with the woman he loves, but in a single moment, that elusive happiness is snatched away again. As cheesy as it sounds, there’s such mesmerizing beauty in his look of pain and agony. It takes a real craftsmanship to bring such tortured soul persona so beautifully and Toby does it with aplomb.

Angela Bassett in Waiting To Exhale

Bassett_WaitingToExhale

Fireman: Ma’am, were you aware that your car was on fire?
[Bernadine nods her head while smoking a cigarette]

Fireman: Ma’am, did you start this fire?
[she puffs smoke and plainly looks at him]

Fireman: You know, it’s against the law to burn anything except trash in your yard.

Bernadine: [flicks off ashes from her cigarette] It is trash.

Miss Bassett is simply awesome, period. It’s been over a decade since I saw this film but I never forget Bernadine’s rage and heartache when her husband leaves her. She’s crestfallen, but yet she never loses that bad-ass sensibility. Her look says it all, ‘Don’t mess with Bernadine.’

Russell Crowe in The Insider

Crowe_TheInsiderI’ve always believed that Crowe got robbed of his Oscar in this film. As fantastic as his portrayal of Maximus was, the way he completely disappeared into Jeffrey Wigand is nothing short of astounding. This scene at the hotel room is mesmerizing, powerful and heart-wrenching and Crowe only communicates with his body language. There’s a bit of a dream sequence here that was crafted masterfully by Michael Mann, but it’s Crowe’s stillness and inner tumult that you won’t soon forget.

Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years A Slave

Chiwetel_12YearsASlaveThis scene is one of the most haunting, which is saying something given how many heart-wrenching scenes there are in this film. At first Solomon didn’t join the other slaves singing Roll Jordan Roll, but somehow, halfway through the song, he started singing. His facial expression stirs up so much expression as I watched it. It’s as if he’d reached the lowest point of his life, losing all hope of ever escaping his fate as a slave… all the grief, desperation, anger and sense of helplessness is all there. Yet there is a glimmer of defiance in him, a flicker of hope still left in him that gets him through another day. Ejiofor deserved an Oscar win just for this scene alone.

Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday

Peck_TheHolidayThe finale remains one of the most beautiful and poignant film endings ever. And I think Peck’s facial expression conveys so much. The restrained tears in his eyes, the rigid way he’s standing, it takes so much out of Joe not to say how he feels about Ann. Yet his expression speaks louder than words could ever do.

Kate Winslet in Titanic

Winslet_TitanicIt’s been ages since I saw Titanic but for some reason, this subtle scene of Rose during dinner with her family and Cal still stands out to me. There’s this glazed look on her face, like she finally stops caring about her privileged life that feels more and more like a prison. “That fire is gonna burn out,” Jack tells her at one point and it’s as if it finally sinks in that he is right and she wants out.

Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator

Joaquin_GladiatorThis is truly one of the greatest scenes in film history IMHO. There’s just so much going on in this scene on psychological and emotional level. Of course Crowe is simply astounding in his ‘Maximus Decimus Meridius’ monologue but one thing that always struck me is Commodus’ stunned reaction. His lips quiver, eyes wide open with shock and his whole body trembles with a combination of rage and fright. It’s like ‘WTF! How could you still be alive?’ He knew at that moment, everything he’s planned so carefully is in shambles. As Lucilla said, at that moment, a slave did become more powerful than the Emperor of Rome, and it’s all written in Commodus’ face.

James Cromwell & Kevin Spacey in L.A. Confidential

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There are certain phrases in movies that will forever be stuck in my head. “Rolo Tomasi” is one of them, and thanks to both Cromwell and Spacey for creating such an iconic and chilling scene. That’s the name Exley (Guy Pearce) gives the unknown murderer of his father just to give him a personality. “Have you a valediction, boyo?” Capt. Dudley Smith asked the dying Sgt. Jack Vincennes. It’s a powerful and totally unexpected response, and one he never thought would eventually lead to his own demise. Even nearing death, Jack still manages to deliver quite a blow to Dudley.


Well, what do you think of my picks? Please share your own picks of great acting defined by one look.

TCFF 2014 Documentary Reviews: Stray Dog, Flying Paper, Where The Trail Ends & One Good Year

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What I love about Twin Cities lineup year after year is the eclectic variety. Documentary is one of those genres I really need to see more of, so I’m glad there are quite a few of them this year. The past few years, I saw award-worthy docs like A Place at the Table, Bully, Gladiator The Uncertain Future of American Football, The Armstrong Lie, etc. at TCFF. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these would end up in the major award roster next year.


So here are the Documentary reviews …

Stray Dog

A documentary about an intellectual motorcyclist and guilt-ridden Vietnam war- veteran, Ronnie Hall, Stray Dog is a character portrait that ultimately doesn’t delve deeply enough to resonate.

Hall is a fitting subject, and director Debra Granik is adept at stringing together scenes that force us to consider society’s treatment of war veterans. She also reflects on the ways war permanently changes soldiers, often for the worse.

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But it is Stray Dog’s more subtle psychological themes that hold potential for the most emotional (and philosophical) resonance. Can we ever redeem our worst mistakes? What must we do to forgive ourselves? How much altruism overcomes past ethnocentricity and arrogance? Is it possible to adapt to new living conditions, particularly those that do not meet our expectations? And so forth. Troublingly, Granik never completely explores such ideas; take, for example, the question of redemption and altruism. In one powerful moment, easily the strongest in the film, she allows Hall to explain why he labels himself unforgivable, closing in on his face as he details his worst sins. His grief and regret are palpable, as is our own inability to connect the man we’ve been watching with the one he’s now describing. Yet, it is the only such scene in Stray Dog, and so the experience of seeing it quickly fades. Which means the film doesn’t connect to our personal psychological experience.

Make no mistake, though. Stray Dog is not a poor documentary. It is engaging throughout, and it does have intriguing ideas. It just doesn’t linger as powerfully as it might have with more fealty to psychology.

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Flying Paper

Flying Paper is one of the most heart-wrenching as well as uplifting docs I’ve seen in ages. It tells the story of resilient Palestinian youth in the Gaza Strip on a quest to shatter the Guinness World Record for the most kites ever flown. Though it shows the war-torn condition in Gaza, the film doesn’t take the political approach. Instead it shows life as it is for these youngsters, who like any other kid in other parts of the world, just want to play.

Two of the main kids being interviewed are siblings Musa and Widad, outspoken and full of energy as they walk us through their daily lives and planning to be a part of the United Nations’ Kite Festival. Musa is the unofficial team lead of sort, showing a maturity that seems well beyond his 14 years. They show us how they make their kites with flour and paste, testing it and making sure it flies the way they wanted it to be. The kite symbolizes freedom, the one thing people in occupied territories could only dream of, so in a way, they sort of live vicariously through the kites that soar into the sky.

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Directed by Nitin Sawhney and Roger Hill and co-produced with a team of young filmmakers in Gaza. One of them is Abeer, a graduate from Voices Beyond Walls Youth Media Program who wants to be a journalist. She acts as the reporter in the film, interviewing kids in their homes as well as at the Kite Festival. It’s heart-wrenching to hear little girls younger than 10 years old telling stories about how F-16 flying low over their homes and how loud the helicopters are when they fly overhead. Later on Musa also show us pieces from a bomb or rocket/tank that were fired nearby. It’s more telling how they nonchalantly talk about it, as they’ve gotten so used to as that’s all they know all their lives.

As we go through one of the schools, a teacher said that kite-making builds team spirit and help channel their energy. I’d imagine that as they live in such a brutal condition, kite-making would make them forget – albeit briefly – the trauma of war.

The third act of the doc shows the astounding Kite Fest at Waha Beach. There are throngs of kids with their colorful kites and big smiles on their faces. They’ve so waited for this moment for so long and I couldn’t help being so excited along with them. Over 7500 kids were at the festival, 7202 to be exact, which easily broke the world record.

Despite the dark themes of war, there is such a joyful spirit in this film and by the end you truly care for these kids and what this record mean to them. It’s quite astounding how this film got made despite the ongoing blockade in the area, so if you get a chance to see it, I urge you to do so.

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Where The Trail Ends

If there is a documentary that is meant to be seen in the hugest possible screens, it’d be this one. It’s fantastic for adrenaline junkie or anyone who appreciates epic cinematography that captures one of the most breathtaking nature scenes that would truly take your breath away.

There are five main free-ride mountain bikers: Darren Berrecloth, James Doerfling, Andreu Lacondeguy, Kurt Sorge and Cam Zink, who are featured here as they search for un-ridden terrain all over the globe. The first terrain shown was in Utah and boy I thought it was already scary and dangerous enough, but no, it’s deemed too easy for them. And off they go to various locations such as Nepal, China, Argentina and Canada. Each place seems more exotic than the next, and the cinematography by Brad McGregor is never less phenomenal from start to finish. The high-speed camera was often placed on the bikers’ helmet so you could see from their point of view and totally got the adrenaline rush pumping. I was as in awe of these daredevils and their death-defying stunts as I was with the amazing camera work.

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Now, this is no doubt one of the most-beautiful documentaries ever filmed, but at the same time, there’s only so much one’s eyeballs could take in. I never thought I’d say this but there are actually moments where I was yawning and looking at my watch. No, I’m not saying the film is boring, it’s just that this doc is more eye candy than anything else as there’s barely no emotional connection with any of its subjects. At times it felt as if I was watching an hour-long commercial for Red Bull, Specialized, Contour, etc. To be fair though, I was truly amazed that these bikes hold up being used in such extreme ways. These bikers seem like they’ve made out of rubbers too. I mean they get hurt, some broke their collar bones, foot, back, etc. but it’s still a feat it’s not worse!

There is one rather touching moment however. One of the bikers, I think it was Darren Berrecloth, almost lost it when he couldn’t bring himself to pull a certain dangerous stunt because he broke his back doing the exact same thing back in his home town. There he was, with the magnificent terrain sprawled right in front of him, beckoning for him to do it. Yet knowing how horrifying the back-breaking experience was that he simply couldn’t bear it again. His utter disappointment was palpable but in the end, everyone knew he made the right decision.

Director Jeremy Grant certainly knows how to make an exciting ride that’s chock-full of incredible spectacles. Where The Trail Ends is worth a look because the visuals is like nothing you’ve ever seen. Just don’t expect something profound or anything with an emotional depth.

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TCFF_reviewer_Ruth


One Good Year

“One Good Year” tells the story of four family farms tucked in the densely wooded forest of Northern California. Interspersed between shots of emerald green hills and bucolic community festivals, these entrepreneurs show endless dedication to their crop and willingness to be one with the land. Oh, did I mention they are marijuana growers? Humboldt County, the home of filmmaker Mikal Jakubal, is, as David Samuels from the New Yorker put it, “The heartland of high grade marijuana farming in California.”

In this new 80-minute documentary, we meet four farmers permitted to grow the green leaves under Proposition 215 (California’s medical marijuana law) – Jory, Kim, Syreeta and Blossom. The film explores the dedication of this quartet to organically growing “the best weed anyone has smoked” juxtaposed against others in the area who exploit the environment to make a quick buck on the illegal (but more lucrative) marijuana trade.

It’s a topical subject, as Minnesota (home of the Twin Cities Film Fest) passed a medical marijuana bill earlier this year, joining nearly half of the states in the country with similar provisions. Undoubtedly it will offend some people – in one scene Blossom’s preschool daughter wanders through the crop while Blossom proclaims, “My mother taught me how to grow marijuana.” But Jakubal does a good job of showing us a personal commitment to the marijuana trade apart from the hype of drug cartels and stoned hippies.

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The four featured in the film are clearly not getting rich off their crop – Syreeta lives in a worn, treehouse like structure with a rusty old pickup in need of repair. When asked why she does it year after year, Blossom replies, “I think there will always be a market for good organic cannabis. I think they’re fun to grow.” The music in this show is particularly complimentary, including the work of local artists such as the Camo Cowboys, whose tune “Family Felony” provides a fun twang.

At times the film gets a little too technical, such as when Jory is describing her seed crop – “This one is Mexican Columbian crossed with Indica from Thailand…” (Oh, of course it is!) Far more helpful are the explanatory text graphics throughout the film explaining certain growing terms like “sexing,” the art of removing male plants to prevent unwanted pollination (only the female plants produce a smokable bud). Overall, it’s a thought provoking addition to the current debate over legalization in this country.

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Bonus Doc – Health Focus: One Community’s Effort

This doc wasn’t part of the TCFF lineup but it played in the film fest lounge as a free community event

Raise your hand if you want to live in an unhealthy community. Yeah, me neither. “Health Focus: One Community’s Effort,” shown at the Showplace Icon Theatre in St. Louis Park as part of the Twin Cities Film Fest, is a new documentary from Twin Cities Public Television. It covers the creation of “Health in the Park,” a grassroots initiative started last year and funded by The Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota with an aim to increase the overall health and wellbeing of St. Louis Park residents.

A first ring suburb directly west of Minneapolis, St. Louis Park is home to approximately 46,000. “It reminds me of a small town village in an urban setting,” Christa Getchell, President of the Park Nicollet Foundation, says in the video. Out of 50 applicants statewide, St. Louis Park was one of only nine cities chosen, in part because of their level of community engagement. “Our community is known for working together,” says Rob Metz, St. Louis Park School Superintendent. “You don’t see that everywhere.”

Full disclosure: I am a St. Louis Park resident and volunteer for Health in the Park’s Better Eating Action Group. As such, I tend to focus on nutrition but there have also been focus groups and presentations aimed at other aspects of healthy living such as increasing access to sidewalks and bike trails. “Because it’s so multifaceted, you can jump in where you feel most comfortable,” says Susan Ericksen, a St. Louis Park resident and Health in the Park Volunteer.

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Far from being a low level amateur project, “Health Focus” was made by Twin Cities Public Television so the production value in this 25-minute story is high. In many scenes, you see community members in various settings partaking in outdoor and indoor activities the city has to offer juxtaposed against various interviews staged in a way so you see the “City of St. Louis Park” logo in the background.

As the old saying goes, talk is cheap. But with the support and engagement of dedicated community members, St. Louis Park is poised to turn “Health in the Park” into more than just a series of conversations. If you miss it at the Twin Cities Film Fest, you can check out TPT’s website for a schedule of upcoming showings or visit the Health in the Park website to learn more about this initiative.

Not sure if I should rate this one? Admittedly I am biased as a St. Louis Park resident and Health in the Park volunteer.

TCFF_reviewer_Sarah


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

TCFF 2014 Interview with Bradley King & George Finn for sci-fi thriller ‘Time Lapse’

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Twin Cities Film Fest picked a truly awesome film for our closing night! Time Lapse is one of those mind-bending sci-fi gems that delivers big impact on a shoestring budget. Director Bradley King and actor George Finn were in attendance and participated in the Q&A afterwards. The theater was packed and the audience gave a loud applause when the credits rolled. I thought it was really well-done, a character-driven piece with a nice blend of humor and suspense.

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FCInterviewBannerI was lucky enough to be able to chat with them at the Marriott Hotel in the afternoon before the screening. It was just the three of us in this huge lobby, and there was no time restriction and no other interviewer present, which was very cool indeed!

George_Bradley_TCFFInterviewThis is yet another impressive directorial debut I saw at TCFF, perhaps even the best. If Time Lapse is any indication, I sure hope this is the first of many from Bradley King. I sure hope the big studios take notice, because if he could do something THIS good on a small budget, I’d love to see what he could do with something that has ten times its budget.

This could be the big break for George Finn as well, who displays a strong screen charisma as well as acting range, seamlessly alternating between a grungy slob to a sly & sinister young man. It’s truly a pleasant surprise to see him channel his dark side convincingly, as the actor I met earlier in the day is so affable and charming … not to mention devastatingly beautiful. A native of Tbilisi, Georgia, Finn is tall, with striking blue eyes and tousled jet black hair, he looks like a cross between Cillian Murphy and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

Ok I could go on but let’s get to the interview, shall we?

Ruth: So Bradley, how did you and [co-screenwriter] B.P. Cooper came up with the story idea?

Bradley: Well I wish I could take credit for it but actually it’s Cooper who came up with the idea for the machine. He actually had seen a movie where someone put a camera inside a machine. So we thought well, what if the machine and the camera were the same thing? So I kinda took that and thought well, that’s awesome but how could we do that and make it into something that’s low-budget in one location, so I guess that’s how it came out of. It’s a practical beginning really, how about if we make a low-budget sci-fi movie, I mean we both love science fiction so this is really what came out of that idea.

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R: I know you came out from short films background… I mean you’ve directed a lot of them. So what make you decide that this is going to turn this idea into a feature film?

Bradley: Yes I’ve directed a lot of features and Cooper has produced a few features, so I guess we’re both were at a point where we wanted to make a movie together and so we’re consciously looking for a film idea that we can do with the means that we have. So once we came up with this we soon realize this would fit the bill.

R: And how was the casting come on board… I mean how did George come on board and all that?

Bradley: Well let’s hear George’s story on how he came on board and I can help fill in the rest…

George: Well, Rick Montgomery who’s the producer of Time Lapse is also a well-known casting director so I read with him a few times and he sent me a pitch packet with a script and the entire layout of what the time machine look like and kind of a storyboard almost. So I read the script and I fell in love with the character Jasper. I remember when I was first reading it, I completely understood who he was. I mean there are certain individuals who sort of resonated with me and I was really getting into it. And the more I read it I found myself getting lost in the story and was really hooked. So by the time I went to read with these guys [pointing to Bradley] I really wanted the part. I met them and in this room there were a lot of storyboards and some yarn lines kind of telling us what would happen after what … I think it was sort of a prototype of the big room. And so I met with them and luckily, it worked out.

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George Finn, Danielle Panabaker, Matt O’Leary in ‘Time Lapse’

R: This film reminds me a bit of Chronicle, which is also a small-budget sci-fi. I mean it’s different plot-wise but it also have three young people dealing with having some kind of superpowers, whilst the people in Time Lapse discovered a machine that’s supposedly have some kind of powers. So is it kind of a cautionary tale about when someone gets a certain power, how the human nature comes into it?

Bradley: Yeah I think pretty early on, we knew things weren’t going to end up well. I’ve always liked cautionary tales especially in sci-fis. We had other potential endings y’know, but it just, the theme of people being obsessed with the future that it sort of ruin their present is something that both Cooper and I can relate to. I think a lot about the future. I think I’d be more like the Finn character [played by Matt O’Leary], I worry a lot about what my next project’s gonna be, whether the next idea show up or whether I’m gonna sit here and stare at a blank page for y’know, however long. So yeah, I used to think that you could decide the theme first then write the story out of that, but usually it’s the other way around. You start writing the story then as you’re writing it, then you realize that ‘oh this theme seems to be strong’ and at the end, usually it becomes clear. Then you go back and see if we could adjust to make that theme even clearer and stronger. So we rewrite things a little bit after you realize the “meaning” of it is. At least for me as a filmmaker, I don’t know that everyone who watches it would take that away but for us, but for us, that’s definitely a strong theme.

R: One of the reviews of the film that I read talked about the visual and the sound kind of give the audience that claustrophobic feeling, you know, being in a small set. So can you talk about a little bit about filming in such a small space and how you got it down to how you wanted it to be.

Bradley: I’d be happy to, but I’m curious how George feels about acting in such a small set and how it affects his performance.

George: Yeah I think it enhances everything in the sense that because we’re all there and we’re kind of so close, we all fell into our roles. It was easier to develop our relationships and figure everything out. And when you’re watching the film, you mentioned the word claustrophobia, you really… umm, I’m trying to find the words on how to describe it… well the claustrophobia adds and intensifies everything.

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R: Cool. I mean you kind of want the environment to be part of the story, don’t you? 

Bradley: Yeah I was worried y’know, as a filmmaker, would it stay interesting? Would it be too claustrophobic? I mean you’ve seen some movies set in one location and you get bored, y’know and by the end, you’re like, I’ve seen this wall a thousand times already. So y’know, so it’s a challenge for everybody. We talked to the DP y’know to keep the lighting fresh, do we want to add more contrast towards the end, darker, or whatever and I think Jonathan [Wenstrup, the cinematographer] did a great job keeping things fresh. I mean yeah, we wanted the film to feel claustrophobic because they kind of trapped in this weird little bubble. Not just in the apartment but the complex itself, ’cause everything happens right there. We’re very lucky that we got this 20s-style series of bungalows that we could take the whole place over. People could do things and move around outside but they never really left, I mean they don’t even know what city they’re in. I like it as a creative limitation. Once we’re able to find the place. Cooper said it was a nightmare until we found it as we spent weeks and weeks trying to find that stupid location.

George: I think one of the coolest things about that location is the fact that where we were, right across from us you actually the camera. The location is exactly what it is. I mean there’s this one movable wall but everything that’s there is really there.

Ruth: So you don’t have to imagine things?

George: Yeah I think as an actor I feel that because of that, it made it a lot easier to understand the character and get into ‘em because in that world, we got to really immerse ourselves into it and be comfortable in it and explore all the fun things that we did get to find.

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Time Lapse Concept Art

Source: Howie Things Blog

R: So how long was the shoot?

Ah, the actual shooting was 27 or 28 days. We’ve been giving both answers during Q&As [laughs], Cooper knows exactly how long, but I think even he’s been giving both answers. So it’s like 27, then we had to add one more day, so 28.

R [for George]: You’ve done some films and a few TV work, I know you’re in The Mentalist [season 6 final episode: Blue Birds]. So is this your first sci-fi genre?

George: Yeah it is. This is my first sci-fi film. I mean I couldn’t be more proud of a film, I think [laughs]. I’m really, really happy. I mean, I got to see a lot of Danielle’s and Matt’s stuff, but there’s a lot of stuff I didn’t get to see. So when I finally got to see it, I was able to remove myself enough to really appreciate it. From the feedback we’re getting and things I’ve heard, I know I’m really proud of it.

R: Last question for you Bradley. Who’s your filmmaker inspiration?

Bradley: Oh boy, that’s tough as I don’t think I have just one and it changes depending on the project. As we got into this one a lot, now I’ve been a big Hitchcock fan and this movie has a bit of Rear Window tone to it. I certainly study him. There are so many others that the list would go on forever. I think it’s easier for me to point to movie influences in this one. We also took a look at films with relationship dynamics where there are three people who are really close and things go really bad. So we looked at Shallow Graves, that was the one we watched a lot, and also A Simple Plan. We also revisited Time Crimes, Back to the Future, and Twelve Monkeys. We just wanted to make sure just what are the rules about time travel, even though there isn’t really time travel in our movie but there is that time themes so you know, we just want to make sure we handle this in a way that’s palatable for people who like this sort of thing. So I guess those are the main influences.

But then when we get to post-production, my editor was a bit Stanley Kubrick fan and so we talked about him. I mean, we didn’t want to make this machine alive but at the same time, it is sort of this Hal-like thing across the way where he’s watching people and in the end, it’s like y’know, the last man standing. And also, once the composer came on board, we started talking about Bernard Herrmann, and sort of going back to Hitchcock and how to deal with a score that could be an old school suspense vein but also feels modern.

R [for George]: And you worked with your brother a lot … [Nika Agiashvilli] So what’s next for you? You have a project you’re working with him right now, correct?

George: Yeah we have a project that’s in early pre-production. It’s a bit of a passion project of ours. We finally getting close to how we wanted to make it. It’s called The Short Happy Life of Butch Livingston. That’s most likely going to be next. I’m also working on another one with Ron Perlman called Savage Mutts, it’s a gritty revenge thriller. It’s a lot of fun, we’re excited about that so whichever one of those shall be my next project.

Ruth: Well, thanks so much guys. I don’t really have any more questions. So do you have anything to add about the film?

Bradley: Ummm I don’t think so, how about you George?

George: Well, go see it! [laughs] Thank you for having us here.

Ruth: No thank you! It’s been fun chatting with you both and I’m super excited to see the film!

TimeLapseCameraDuring the Q&A, someone asked Bradley about the design of the Camera Machine itself, here’s his answer:

Bradley: Up front I knew that I wanted it to feel retro and a bit steam-punk-y. I worked with a concept artist named Howard Schechtman, and I made it clear I didn’t want any LEDs or lasers or computer chips etc. He started coming back with great sketches, and probably the 3rd one is the one we went with. At that point we didn’t really expect the physical machine to end up resembling these sketches (because of budget, it just seemed improbable) but then we discovered this fabricator named Dave Mendoza, and he and a scenic artist Thibault Pelletier worked together over the course of the shoot to build the machine as you see it in the movie. They were sourcing parts from all over the place – an airplane junkyard, hardware stores, some parts even came from the abandoned apartment complex itself. By the end of the shoot they had really captured the magic of the concept sketches, and I was extremely pleased.


Congratulations Bradley & BP Cooper + the entire cast for Time Lapse winning the Indie Vision: Breakthrough Film award!

George Finn & Bradley King accepting the TCFF Indie Vision Award

George Finn & Bradley King accepting the TCFF Indie Vision Award


 Check out Time Lapse‘s trailer


Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, Bradley & George!

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Hope you enjoyed the interview. Has anyone seen Time Lapse? I’d love to know what you think!

TCFF 2014 Wrap Up & Final Awards: The Imitation Game, Time Lapse, Stray Dog Doc, Solitude & More!

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Oh boy, what a thrilling, fun and exhilarating 10 days it’s been!! Pardon the late Closing Night recap, I stayed up pretty late last night at the Closing Night party, as I missed the past few years’ festivities. It’s so awesome that this year we’ve got a great spot for our Nightly Mixer at the Shops at West End, just a few doors down from The Showplace ICON Theatres! It’s definitely been a great success once again, woot woot!

This is the fifth year I’ve been covering TCFF and I have to say this is truly the BEST year I’ve had. Of course it seems that I say that every year but this year is absolutely amazing. I’m so glad I got the chance to chat with many great filmmakers and talents who are all gracious and friendly that made every interview such a joy. Special thanks to Haley Lu Richardson, Rik Swartzwelder, Drea Clark, Jonathan Ehlers, Patrick Ward-Perkins, Molly Ryman, Tyler Noble, George Finn & Bradley King for taking the time to chat with me during the Film Fest! I’ve always got butterflies in my stomach before I go into any interview, but my qualms/nervousness quickly disappear as soon as I met each talent. It’s been a blessing to be a part of this great organization, so Jatin, Bill, Steve, Dani, Naomi, etc. I really mean what I said in my tweet last night …


I also want to thank all the blogging contributors Sarah Johnson, Josh Petitt and Adam Wells. I wouldn’t have been able to do all those interviews AND do every single review, so MASSIVE THANKS for all your help, guys!

So here are this year’s winners of TCFF 2014 Awards!

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The Twin Cities Film Fest bestowed eight films, two artists and one local community leader with awards late Saturday evening during a star-studded ceremony in downtown St. Louis Park. Leading the roster of winners was The Imitation Game, the World War II espionage thriller starring Benedict Cumberbatch as mathematician Alan Turing that is widely considered to be a frontrunner for the year-end awards race. The film took home the festival’s trophy for Best Feature Film. (See the festival’s complete list of 2014 finalists, which were announced Oct. 23)

Also honored: Keira Knightley, winner of the TCFF North Star Award for Excellence for her performances in two official festival selections: Laggies and The Imitation Game. “When you see this body of work paired together, there’s no denying the acting force that is Keira Knightley,” said TCFF Artistic Director Steven Snyder. “There’s such a range of talent on display here – funny, heroic, vulnerable, defiant, haunted, and always compelling. She breathes life into personalities and perspectives that are worlds apart – and yet proves charming, charismatic and irresistible every time out.” Hear, hear!

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The independent sci-fi thriller Time Lapse walked off with the festival’s Indie Vision: Breakthrough Film award. Debra Granik’s Stray Dog – the director’s follow-up to her Oscar-nominated narrative film “Winter’s Bone” – won Best Documentary. And Andrew Kightlinger’s Destroyer was selected as the year’s best short film.

Local film industry legend Al Milgrom was also honored Saturday evening, bestowed with a star on the Minnesota Walk of Fame, in recognition of a career spent importing and celebrating world cinema for the Twin Cities film community. Milgrom founded Minneapolis’ University Film Society in 1962 and later launched the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival in 1983.

Dani Palmer with Al Milgrom at Closing Night Party

Dani Palmer with Al Milgrom at Closing Night Party

Saturday evening’s ceremony marked the culmination of the 10-day festival, which screened more than 75 titles – a mix of independent premieres and Hollywood sneak peeks – at the Showplace ICON Theatres. In addition to the annual October festival, the Minnesota-based non-profit organizes year-round programming, as well as industry networking events and educational opportunities. Learn more at twincitiesfilmfest.org.

The complete list of 2014 winners:

Best Feature Film: The Imitation Game (dir. Morten Tyldum)
Runner-Up: Ink & Steel (dir. Jonathan Ehlers and Patrick Ward-Perkins)
Audience Award – Feature: Solitude (dir. Taylor Scott Olson and Livingston Oden)
Runner-Up: The Last Time You Had Fun (dir. Mo Perkins)
Audience Award – Short: Sad Clown (dir. Jason P. Schumacher)
Runner-Up: My Last Breath (dir. Cy Dodson)
Audience Award – Documentary: Scouts Honor: Inside A Marching Brotherhood (dir. Mac Smith & Tom Tollefsen)
Runner-Up: The Syndrome (dir. Meryl Goldsmith)
Indie Vision Award – Breakthrough Film: Time Lapse (dir. Bradley King)
Runner-Up: BFFs (dir. Andrew Putschoegl)
Indie Vision Award – Breakthrough Performance: Haley Lu Richardson, Actress “The Well” and “The Young Kieslowski”
Runner-Up: Eliza Coupe, Actress, “The Last Time You Had Fun”
Best Short Film: Destroyer (dir. Andrew Kightlinger)
Runner-Up: My Last Breath (dir. Cy Dodson)
Best Documentary: Stray Dog (dir. Debra Granik)
Runner-Up: The Immortalists (dir. David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg)
TCFF North Star Award for Excellence: Keira Knightley, for performances in “The Laggies” and “The Imitation Game”
TCFF-Minnesota Walk of Fame Award: Filmmaker Al Milgrom
Twin Cities Community Change Maker Award: Vednita Carver, executive director of Breaking Free. (BreakingFree.net)

 


Well the film fest may be over but I’ve still got a few more reviews I’ll be posting (The Imitation Game, Wild, Time Lapse, etc.) as well as my interview with The Last Time You Had Fun producer Drea Clark + George Finn & Bradley King from Time Lapse!


Thanks so much to all who have been reading my TCFF coverage!

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 !

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!