TCFF Day 2 Film Highlights: The Search for Simon, Gladiators Football doc, Trust Greed Bullets and Bourbon & more!

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The Opening Night went on without a hitch! I can’t post my review for Nebraska yet but suffice to say I highly recommend it! It was wildly entertaining and amusing. If you like The Descendants which also deals the quirky family dynamics, I think you’d enjoy Nebraska. Kudos for Alexander Payne for crafting such an engaging, poignant but also hilarious film, boasted by great performances by the cast, especially Bruce Dern. That Best Actor win at Cannes is well-deserved, here’s hoping for more award love for the man.

It was fun to see all the buzz at the Showplace ICON Cinema with everyone mingling and people talking/posing on the red carpet area. There’s even a flashmob going on at the lobby! As people come in the door, our vehicle sponsor FIAT with TCFF logo emblazoned on its shiny exterior is on display!

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Speaking of which, did you know there’s a complimentary FIAT Drive-In event on Tuesday night (10/22) from 7-9:30pm right at the Shops at West End. Check out the link for more info.

It’s now DAY 2!

Here are some of the film highlights for today:

SearchForSimon

The Search For Simon

TCFF Showing: Friday, October 18, 2013 at 12:00pm + Sunday, October 20, 2013 at 9:30pm

In 1979 David Jones’ younger brother Simon, aged 7, disappeared without a trace and was never seen again.

34 years later David is still looking.

This is The Search for Simon.

Directed by: Martin Gooch
Starring: Carol Cleveland (Monty Python), Tom Price (Torchwood), Sophie Aldred (Dr. Who), Lucy Clements (The ABCs of Death), Millie Reeves, Noeleen Comiskey and Chase Masterson (Star-Trek Deep Space 9).

I LOVE British sci-fi comedies and I’ve heard people calling this Shaun of the Dead meets the X-Files! Director Martin Gooch was kind enough to make this specially-made video to answer my questions about the film, check it out!

On behalf of TCFF, THANK YOU Mr. Gooch for your kindly making that video for us. I will post the review after I see the film.


TrustGreedBulletsBourbon

Trust Greed Bullets and Bourbon

TCFF Showing: Friday, October 18, 2013 at 6:45pm (with director Scott Kawczynski attending)

Five years after a simple heist goes awry, a group of thieves reconvene at a cabin in upstate New York, hoping to recover the diamonds they initially stole. Tensions rise as allegiances are made and broken, backs are stabbed and the dirty past is dredged up as the group searches for the diamonds and answers.

Directed by: Scott Kawczynski
Starring: Max Casella (THE SOPRANOS, BLUE JASMINE, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS) and 4 times Tony-nominated actor Danny Burstein (BOARDWALK EMPIRE).

Check out the trailer:

Stay tuned for a special interview post with Scott Kawczynski as well as the review for the film!


Gladiators: The Uncertain Future of American Football documentary

TCFF Showing: Friday, October 18, 2013 at 4:30pm + Friday, October 25, 2013 at 1:45pm

GladiatorsFootballA historical film that tells the story of a game that was always dangerous, and whose dangers, though controversial, were also desired. Since its beginnings in the late nineteenth century, football has become not just Americans’ favorite spectator sport but also a supposed training for manhood; a fundamental part of the American educational system; a pathway for social and economic mobility, with millions of dollars now paid to top players and coaches; a source of personal and communal identity; an unparalleled social ritual; and some of the most powerful stories America tells about itself.

Directed by: Todd Trigsted
Written by: Michael Oriard

Check out the trailer on TCFF Official page.


WeAreWhatWeAre

We Are What We Are

TCFF Showing: Friday, October 18, 2013 at 9:00pm

The Parkers, a reclusive family who follow ancient customs, find their secret existence threatened as a torrential downpour moves into their area, forcing daughters Iris and Rose to assume responsibilities beyond those of a typical family.

Directed by: Jim Mickle
Written by: Jim Mickle and Nick Damici

This horror mystery has been playing in the film festival circuit and got some great critical reviews (85% on Rotten Tomatoes). Seems like a perfect Friday night film for horror fans just in time for [almost] Halloween.

Check out the trailer:


TCFFTickets

Ticket Prices are as follows:
General Admission $10; Opening/Closing Gala $20; Centerpiece Gala $20; Sneak Preview Galas $20. Festival Passes can also be purchased: Silver $50 for 6 films; Gold $70 for 10 films; or Platinum $120 for 12 films + 2 tickets to Opening, Closing or Gala. (Silver and Gold Packages do not include Opening, Closing or Gala Tickets).

For more information and to purchase tickets visit www.twincitiesfilmfest.org.


Stay tuned for more TCFF coverage. So any of the films above that caught your eye?

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Question of the Week: What’s your favorite film festival/event experience?

Hello everyone! I’m gearing up for Twin Cities Film Fest (TCFF) coming Thursday. I hope you all will stick around in the next week and a half for the TCFF coverage I’ll bring you, which includes reviews, education o coverage, interviews and more!

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I’m super excited for the dozen plus movies I’ll be watching in the next 10 days, which is one of the major perks of having a film fest in town, but also for the excitement that such an event brings. As a film fan, there’s something so exhilarating in being a part of a film event such as this one. It’s my fourth year blogging at TCFF and I can’t wait for what film-related adventure and who I’d get to meet this year :D

Now, before TCFF, the only film fest I’ve been to was TIFF, but that was nearly 10 years ago in 2005! I hadn’t even started blogging yet at the time, but I did recount my experience of meeting my then crush Gerry Butler following Beowulf and Grendel screening. I hope to visit more film festivals in the future, a friend of mine actually works for a catering company who gets sent to Sundance yearly so I might meet up with her there.

Now, some of you have likely been to either a film festival (either in your town or elsewhere), some have even covered them (check out Bonjour Tristesse VIFF coverage and Terrence’s WSIF coverage). But a film event isn’t just confined to film festivals. Perhaps you attended a red carpet film premiere and got to see the stars up close? Or it can also be something like a special/anniversary screening of a classic film. I know my friend Michael often highlights such an event, such as this one at the Los Angeles Chinese Theater.

So for the fun of sharing amongst film lovers, would you share your most memorable film event experience?

(Feel free to include links and/or photos :D)

Spotlight on five great documentaries – and they’re all playing at TCFF!

Woo hoo!!! Today is the day. 9 Days. 60 Films. 25 Events. From today all the way to next Saturday the 20th, this is the place to be for film lovers in the Upper Midwest!

Have you gotten your tickets yet? They are selling fast, in fact when I went to the SHOWPLACE ICON THEATRE in St. Louis Park, the seats are really picked over so don’t delay. You can buy them online but you still have to reserve your seats at the ticket booth.

I’ve blogged about some of the films I’m super excited about, but I wanted to talk about the documentaries specifically, as two years in a row TCFF has kicked off the film fest with a documentary, last year with the education-themed Waiting For Superman. Before I get to the list, check out the TCFF documentary promo, hosted by Minnesota-based filmmaker Joanna Kohler:

A Place At the Table – Friday, Oct 12 6pm

A Place At The Table is an important documentary every Americans should see. As the woman in the trailer says, hunger doesn’t just happen in Africa, but right in our neighborhood. It’s heartbreaking to hear that one in four children here in the US don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and this happens despite our country having the means to provide nutritious, affordable food for all its people.

The documentary features Jeff Bridges, who apparently is closely-connected to this subject matter as he’s the founder of the End Hunger Network. It also features celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, one of the judges on Bravo’s Top Chef who also happens to be co-director Lori Silverbush’s husband. Silverbush herself will be at the educational panel before the event.


Proceeds from this event will also benefit the Second Harvest Heartland, Food Emergency Shelf, and STEP (St. Louis Park Emergency Program).


American Autumn: An Occudoc – Thursday, Oct 18 2:45pm

It’s been over a year since the Occupy Wall Street movement began, and this provocative documentary chronicles the early days of this Occupy movement and how it’s gaining momentum.

The review from the NY Times says that “… [director] Dennis Trainor Jr. offers a concise review of the protests that first encamped in Zuccotti Park then swept across the nation and around the world.” Everyone sure has an opinion about the economic inequality problem in America, and this film offers an array of facts and figures on such subjects.

Narrated by Trainor, the documentary features speeches and interviews from filmmaker Michael Moore, Dr. Cornel West (Princeton University), comic/author/activist Lee Camp, journalists Nathan Schneider (Harper’s, The Nation) and Naomi Klein (The Nation) and more.


After I Pick the Fruit – Saturday, October 20 12:45pm

Another hot topic you’ve likely been hearing all over the news is immigration. Even though I’m an immigrant myself, this film is likely to resonate with me. Nancy Ghertner directs a film that follows the lives of five immigrant farm worker women over a ten-year period as they labor in the apple orchards and fields of rural western New York, migrate seasonally to Florida, raise their families, and try to hide from the Bush-era immigration raids that were conducted in response to September 11, 2001.

Filmed across the United States and Mexico, this intimate, bittersweet, feature-length film illuminates a community that is nearly invisible to most Americans, and will change the way you look at our national immigration problem.


Bay of All Saints – Saturday, Oct 20 10:45 am

The winner of Audience Award for Documentary at SXSW 2012, director Annie Eastman explored the lives of impoverished families living in palafitas, shacks built on stilts over the ocean bay in Bahia, Brazil. In an SXSW interview posted by Indiewire, Eastman shared that in college, she discovered Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art from the slave culture of Brazil, which somehow led her to make this film. She revealed that the story spans 7 years, 12 trips to Brazil and 20 weeks of editing.

Bay of All Saints is a lyrical portrait of three single-mothers living in the water slums during this crisis. Their individual stories of poverty unfold through visits from Norato, their big-hearted refrigerator repairman, born and raised in the palafitas. As these women rise to fight for their future, they begin to see the bay in a whole new light.


Call Me Kuchu –  Saturday, October 13 10:25 pm

Kato with the ‘Call Me Kuchu’ filmmakers

The term “Kuchu” is the word LGBT Ugandans use to refer to themselves, though some regards it as derogatory. US-based filmmakers Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worral explores the struggles of the LGBT community in Uganda, as the government is working on a bill that would make homosexuality a crime punishable by life imprisonment, even death. It would even go as far as persecute those who fail to report known homosexuals to authorities.

The film features David Kato, a Ugandan teacher known as the country’s first openly gay man who fought against the homophobic laws, as well interviews with as other members of the LGBT community. It’s heartbreaking what happened to Kato, whose life came to a tragic end in January 2011 before the film even premiered. This is religious extremes at its worst… no matter what one’s view is about homosexuality, there is absolutely no justification for what the government is doing to their own people.

Call Me Kuchu has won several awards at various Film Festivals, including the Best International Feature Award at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.


Thoughts on any of these docs? Which one(s) caught your interest?

Counting Down to TCFF! The Films I Can’t Wait to See

TCFF is just four days away and I’ve finalized the movies I’ll be watching during the 9-day film fest. I’m just thrilled that there’s quite an eclectic lineup we’ve got this year, practically there’s something from every genre. I’ve blogged about some of them on this post, but below is my full schedule of what I’ll be watching.

Before we get to that though, here’s TCFF’s Preview Video with our hosts Amanda Day & Joe Kessler.

The perk of blogging for the film fest is that I could watch as many films as I could (yay!). Of course it’d still not be possible for me to see every single film, but heck I’m certainly going to try to see at least a dozen films or more if I could help it. This year, I’m also getting some blogging help from fellow Twin Citians (I actually never ever use that term before but seems kinda appropriate here, ahah): June from Girl Producer blog and Emery, a U of M Film Student and aspiring film reviewer. So expect to see TCFF movie reviews from all three of us starting this weekend.

So here are the list of films I can’t wait to see:


Full Film Schedule & Trailers at TCFF Official Site


Friday – October 12
A PLACE AT THE TABLE

This important documentary narrated by Jeff Bridges shines a light on the 30% of American families that don’t know where their next meal is coming from, there are plenty of other compelling docs playing at the film fest. I’ll be highlighting those later this week.


Saturday – October 13
IT’S A DISASTER

I like Julia Stiles, and I always think she should get more leading roles! Well, she’s got a starring role in this quirky apocalypse comedy, along with David Cross and America Ferrera.  Directed by actor/director Todd Berger (The Scenesters). Here’s a clip from the movie:


Sunday -  October 14
QUARTET

I just re-watched the trailer again and I’m even more excited about it now. Dustin Hoffman in his directorial debut has assembled quite a cast (Maggie Smith, Billy Connelly, Michael Gambon, etc.) in what looks like a delightful comedy about retired Opera singers. Sponsored by The Minnesota Opera.
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Monday -  October 15
FINDING HOME

This character-driven drama was shot in just 10 days in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Check out the promo for Minnesota films:


Tuesday – October 16
THE SESSIONS

Normally I wouldn’t think of someone being paralyzed from polio as being funny, yet somehow director Ben Lewin seems to have crafted a heartwarming comedy on that topic. The cast is a winner, I’ve always loved William H. Macy and he’s poised to be the scene-stealer here. John Hawkes is one of those instantly-likable actor, plus it’s been a while since I saw Helen Hunt in anything. Check out the trailer if you haven’t already.


Wednesday – October 17
NOBODY WALKS

I actually saw this trailer before I saw it on TCFF schedule, and I’m intrigued by the story. I’ve been hearing Olivia Thirlby‘s name being mentioned a lot lately as she starred in Dredd 3D, but this looks like a very different role for her. The cast includes John Krasinski and Rosemary DeWitt.


Thursday – October 18
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

I’ve mentioned in the lineup post that this film won Audience Award at TIFF. Well, this past week it just received another similar prize at Hamptons International Film Festival Awards. I’m normally not a Bradley Cooper fan but I’m prepared for him to change my mind. I do love Jennifer Lawrence and she’s perhaps poised to get another Oscar nom on this one.


Friday – October 19
NOT FADE AWAY

Feature film debut from the creator of The Sopranos David Chase. Set in suburban New Jersey the 1960s, a group of friends form a rock band and try to make it big. James Gandolfini also stars in the film.

A LATE QUARTET

This is one of those films you watch just for the cast. I mean, check this out, Christopher Walken AND Philip Seymour Hoffman, plus the excellent Catherine Keener in a string quartet where one of the member receives a life changing diagnosis which threatens the unity of the group. So there are TWO music-themed films with ‘quartet’ in the title that I’m looking forward to playing at TCFF! :)


Saturday – October 20
THE STORY OF LUKE

27 year-old Lou Taylor Pucci has got over two dozen films under his belt, yet I haven’t seen a single one yet. Well this will be the first then. He stars as a young man with autism who’s breaking free from the shelter of his grandparents and go on a quest for a job and true love. Also starring Seth Green and Cary Elwes.

….
LUMPY

We don’t get a lot of films being filmed here in Minnesota, so it’s always nice to see it when that happens. Directed by a Minnesota- born director Ted Koland in his first feature film. It stars Justin Long and Jessica Weixler in story about a pair of newlyweds who has to bring their best man Lumpy’s body back to Minnesota for burial and what happens as friends try to reconnect with people who were in the dead guy’s life.


October is going to be the best movie-watching month for me. If you live in the area, I hope you’ll make time to check out TCFF!

What do you think of these movies, folks, which one(s) interest you most?

Counting down to TCFF: Bikes Over Baghdad documentary review

In about three months time, one of the most exciting event in my neck of the woods is touching down. YES, the Twin Cities Film Fest starts on FRIDAY, October 12 through Saturday, Oct. 20!

I can’t wait to be a part of the festivities again as the official blogger. So from now until then, I’ll be posting advanced screening reviews/announcements relating to the event. For more info, click on the banner to go to the official site and also LIKE TCFF on Facebook!


Just what is Bikes Over Baghdad?

A word from the director from their website:
Bikes over Baghdad was a tour comprised of a team of a dozen action sports heros and legends. We traveled to the middle east six separate times with each tour roughly two weeks in length, facing extreme conditions, mortar rounds, IED’s, injury, exhaustion and more, but never missing a show. And while the team read like a who’s who of action sports, egos were put aside and nothing short of a series of miracles were performed.

Minnesota-based filmmaker Christian Schauf and his brother Zachary were the ones who came up with the idea. Their band Catchpenny traveled numerous times to Iraq. Last month, Schauf brought his cast-members of his documentary for a Friends & Family event for an advanced screening. The cast also held a Q&A following the screening at SHOWPLACE ICON Theaters in Minneapolis. Check out the photos from the event:

My review:

I’m glad I got to see this film on the big screen. Bikes Over Baghdad is well-made doc, it’s energetic, fun, and exuberant with dynamic music playing throughout, including Schauf’s band Catchpenny. I’m not even a BMX show fan but I was engrossed in the film and the experience of putting together these shows from base to base.

What I like about this doc is that it’s not just about the extreme sports itself. I mean they are fascinating in its own right of course, I mean these BMX riders pull massive aerials on quarter pipes and vertical half pipes. They’re such daredevils! I always gasp every time I see them leap high into the air with their bikes over and over again. But their mission to boost morale for the troops in Iraq, Kuwait, etc. are what makes this film so intriguing.

The film shows a good balance of one-on-one interviews with the performers and the troops, the ramps building and the fascinating, gravity defying show itself. The editing is done in a way that isn’t boring. It’s cool to see the reaction of the troops when they’re watching these exhilarating events. They look genuinely in awe and thankful that these BMXers went all the way from the States to give them a form of ‘escapist entertainment’ and let them forget their arduous tasks, even for just a couple of hours.

There’s plenty of humor and whimsical rapport amongst the BMX team, but it also shows the poignant, tragic side when the base got attacked during the show and a few of the troops perished just as the show was going on. It was an emotional moment for the BMX riders and it showed. It’s pretty crazy to see the kind of injuries the performers endure, on top of the lack of sleep and extreme heat. Yet they are passionate about what they do and each of them work so hard day in and day out. It’s apparent that they do this out of love and respect for the troops.

Ron Kimler and Nate Wessler resting in between ramp-building and lamenting on heat rash – photo courtesy of BMX.Transworld.net

Nate Wessel is my fave character, he’s the dread-locked fellow who’s the primary builder of the ramps. His ramp-building skills is amazing and he’s also a professional BMX rider himself. I don’t know how he could get the ramps set up in a matter of 2 hours, a fraction of the time it normally takes, working in 120+ degree-days no less!

The highlight is the visit Sadam’s old palace called Price of Victory palace and biking around inside where it would’ve been impossible for anyone to go into. Check out the trailer below:

I highly recommend this documentary when it’s released in your area or on DVD.

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

..Stay tuned next week for review and Q&A event of:


Any fan of BMX sports out there? Thoughts on Bikes Over Baghdad?

TCFF Final Day: Stan Lee Doc & Closing Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

The last film I saw was…

With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story

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

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

Stan & Joan Lee – then and now

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

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

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

Click to see who won awards at TCFF

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

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

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


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

Long live cinema!

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

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

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

Ordinary Family

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

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

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

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

Machine Gun Preacher

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

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

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

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

Where Soldiers Come From

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

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

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

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


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

TCFF Day 4: Like Crazy Interview and Panel Discussion

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

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

Like Crazy Interview – 9/23 4 pm

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

WithAntonYelchinTCFF2011

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


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

Like Crazy Panel 9/24 – Noon 

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

Drake Doremus, Yelchin & moderator Steve Snyder

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

So what’s next for both?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

White Knight Mini Review

The White Knight Cast – Chris McDuffie Photography

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

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

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

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

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


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

TCFF Day 2: A conversation with lead programmer Steve Snyder

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

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

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

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

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

Below is Steve’s film recommendation from each category:

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

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