FlixChatter Review – The Meg (2018)

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The Meg, short for “megalodon,” refers to a massive prehistoric shark dwelling below what scientists initially believed to be the ocean floor. When a team of explorers is trapped in their submarine and at the mercy of the enormous creature, it’s up to disgraced deep-sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) to save them.

On a scale of Jaws to Sharknado, this movie is closer to the latter half. The acting quality is mixed. Leading man Statham is pretty much what you would expect. We see his abs. We have trouble understanding what he says in his gravelly voice and thick British accent. He gives a fun performance, if not necessarily memorable. Bingbing Li is a great leading lady as Suyin; she gives a genuine, dynamic, likable perfomance. The supporting cast is mostly decent, especially the delightful Page Kennedy as DJ, who has some solid comedic timing, but Ruby Rose as Jaxx is painfully boring; she’s always cast as the sarcastic cool girl and gives the same one-note performance every time, and this role is no exception. The one time she has to show any real emotion is embarrassingly bad; she has the least convincing “crying” face I have ever seen.

The movie is also a mess writing-wise, mostly due to sloppy pacing. At first it seems like the focus will be on rescuing the trio (Jessica McNamee as Lori, Masi Oka as Toshi, and Olafur Darri Olafsson as The Wall), but that is resolved surprisingly quickly and the focus shifts to finding and killing the shark, which you think will be the focus for the rest of the movie, but then (spoiler warning: highlight to read) they kill it barely over halfway through the movie only to discover there’s a second meg!

It’s a pretty lame twist to begin with, but to introduce it so far from the ending is extra weird. It would have been more effective if they had made the rescue mission at the beginning longer; not only does spending more time in the isolated setting make the conflict more suspenseful, but making it longer would help balance the “hunt and kill” portion of the story.

All that said, The Meg is visually impressive. The CGI is excellent and believable, thanks in large part to mostly showing the shark in quick, brief shots or extremely close up or in shadowy underwater shots, so it’s easy to forget it’s computer-animated. The deep sea environment is beautifully haunting and imaginative without feeling unrealistic. While releasing so many feature films in IMAX often feels overdone, it’s absolutely warranted in this case, because the visuals are so much more breathtaking.

While The Meg is by no means a brilliant movie, it’s still a cool one to see on the big screen. If you enjoy cheesy action flicks and well-done CGI, you’ll like this one.

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Have you seen ‘The Meg’? Well, what did you think? 

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Twin Cities Film Fest Fall Preview Gala 2018 kicks off September 6 w/ special guest Steve Zahn!

The Twin Cities Film Fest is thrilled to announce that acclaimed actor and Minnesota native Steve Zahn will be the recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award, presented each year at the organization’s annual Festival Preview Gala which kicks off the new TCFF season.

Limited tickets is available here for the Thursday, Sept 6. dinner;  all proceeds go to the organization to support expanded programming and educational events.

Over the past 25 years, Zahn has amassed an unforgettable body of work, appearing in some of the most iconic and critically-acclaimed films of his time. From “Reality Bites” to “That Thing You Do!”, “Out of Sight,” “Shattered Glass,” “Rescue Dawn,” “War for Planet of the Apes,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” and more recently “Valley of the Boom” and “Captain Fantastic,” TCFF organizers cited the range and diversity of his work in bestowing him with this year’s top honor.

“Steve Zahn is one of the most talented, successful and recognizable actors working in Hollywood today,” said TCFF Executive Director Jatin Setia. “We’re so honored to be able to celebrate a Minnesota son who has run so far with his talents, and left such an indelible mark on today’s movie industry.”

In this article in Star Tribune, Zahn says that he doesn’t feel like he’s ready to accept a lifetime achievement award. But I think he deserves it and he’s definitely a much more versatile actor than people give him credit for. Can’t believe he’s been acting for 25 years (and that he’s 50 years old! He doesn’t look a day over 35!)  I enjoyed his performance in That Thing You Do!, Forces of Nature, You’ve Got Mail, Shattered Glass, Captain Fantastic, and even his voice work in War for the Planet of the Apes as the hilarious Bad Ape. He’s got such a charming likability about him that is instantaneous,  and like his That Thing You Do! director Tom Hanks, he’s got that ‘everyman’ quality about him.

I for one can’t wait to see Mr. Zahn and hopefully get to meet him in person and thank him for entertaining us all these years!


GALA DETAILS

The Festival Preview Gala, hosted this year at the Metropolitan Ballroom, is TCFF’s annual industry celebration, fundraiser and unveiling of the new film festival schedule. The program includes dinner, drinks, red carpet, silent auction, honors and select trailers for films that will screen at this October’s festival. Zahn and other honorees will be in attendance to receive their awards.

Steve will be interviewed by local TV & Radio personality Jason Matheson for an intimate reflection on his inspiring body of work. Shannon Paul will emcee the evening with her hilarious banter as your favorite cinematic non-profit reveals TCFF 2018’s most anticipated films premiering this at October’s festival, followed by an intimate evening with Steve Zahn.

6pm-7pm:
Reception
Silent Auction
Red Carpet
Live Music

7:30pm:
Dinner
Previews & Giving- Emceed by Miss Shannan Paul
Retrospective with Steve Zahn- Hosted by Jason Matheson

GET TICKETS »

VIP Table – $1,500 (seats 8 guests)
Table Host – $1,000 (seats 8 guests)
Individual Dinner – $150
General Admission – $40 (non-dinner option)

MEAL OPTIONS:

  • Option 1: Chicken Breast w/Dried Cherry Sauce on Potato Puree & Green Beans w/sweet peppers
  • Option 2: Saffron Pappardelle Pasta with Oven-Roasted Tomatoes, Artichokes and Wild Mushrooms

LOCATION:

The Metropolitan Ballroom
5418 Wayzata Blvd
Minneapolis, MN 55416


 

FlixChatter Review: The Darkest Minds (2018)

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Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Writer: Chad Hodge
Running Time: 1h 44min

Review by: Vitali Gueron

When you think of good movies that were adapted from young adult novels, you should think of The Hunger Games films, the Divergent series and The Maze Runner trilogy. Unfortunately, you should not be thinking of the subpar movie The Darkest Minds, directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, written by Chad Hodge and based on Alexandra Bracken‘s young adult novel of the same name. This movie is not evenly-paced, full of post-apocalyptic/dystopian clichés and has a very cheesy teenage romance.

The movie starts off in near-future version of America where children suddenly begin dying off from a mysterious disease. The few that do survive have some kind of enhanced/supernatural abilities, and they’re color-coded according to their creepy glowing eyes. Some are deemed safe by the government — greens have a heightened intelligence, blues have telekinetic powers, and yellows can control electricity. But a few are too dangerous to keep alive – reds that can start fires and a select few who are orange, meaning they can control minds. The government imprisons the greens, blues and yellows and kills off the reds and oranges (with the exception of a few that are kept alive to be used for the government’s diabolical methods).

The main character in the movie is Ruby Daly (Amandla Stenberg) who has orange glowing eyes, but convinces a doctor that she is actually green, meaning that she is not killed but rather imprisoned to a child labor camp – which is unsurprisingly a total bummer. She gets smuggled out of the camp by a strange doctor named Cate Connor (Mandy Moore) who is a member of a group that fights against the government’s policies. Ruby does not believe her and escapes to find a group of three teens who just had escaped from another child labor camp – blue Liam (played by Harris Dickinson, who looks way too old to be a teenager), green Chubs (Skylan Brooks) and yellow Zu (Miya Cech). The four set off to find a secret camp, run by Clancy Gray (Patrick Gibson), who is the president’s son – a supposed good guy who helps escaped teenagers and shelters them away for government soldiers – and is also the only other known orange alive.

Unsurprisingly, Ruby and Liam’s relationship begins to take off just in time for her to be seduced by the orange-eyed Clancy along with his unclear motives. By this point in the movie, the story is flying ahead at warp speed, and before we realize what just happened, there are government soldiers working under Clancy, who’ve captured most runaway kids at the camp. Somehow Ruby manages to escape the government trap but her group with Liam, Chubs and Zu gets split up and one member sustains life-threatening injuries rescuing Ruby. Next thing we know, Ruby is back with Doctor Cate, making a deal to spare Liam’s life. Because of the movie’s uneven pacing, our heroes move rapidly from one conflict to the next without properly ramping up or down the tension.

I don’t know what’s worst about The Darkest Minds – the way too much time given to the film’s corny romance or the underdeveloped story that has predictable twists come far too quickly to make you feel invested. Since this movie is based on a book series by Alexandra Bracken, it naturally suggests that several movie sequels are to follow. My recommendation for the studio is to cut its losses and forget about even considering a sequel. And my recommendation for potential viewers is to save almost two-hours of your life by avoiding this movie. If you are looking for a good movie that was adapted from young adult novel, try re-watching The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner. Don’t bother wasting your time by watching this movie – even if you are in the target demographic of being a young adult. Or you can watch the 2011 Diablo Cody-written comedy Young Adult, starring Charlize Theron.


Have you seen ‘The Darkest Minds’? Well, what did you think? 

Rental Pick: LOVING VINCENT (2017)

In a story depicted in oil painted animation, a young man comes to the last hometown of painter Vincent van Gogh to deliver the troubled artist’s final letter and ends up investigating his final days there.

Billed as the world’s first fully painted animation feature, naturally each scene is worth framing. It’s a gorgeous film that leaves my mouth agape as I kept wondering ‘how did they do THAT?’ Well, per IMDb trivia, each of the film’s 65,000 frames is an oil painting on canvas, using the same technique as Van Gogh himself, created by a team of 100 painters. It’s fitting then that title is Loving Vincent as his art was treated with such care.

Now, the story itself surprised me. I didn’t know much about Van Gogh but the ‘fact’ that he killed himself in his 30s was well-known. But did he actually commit suicide? The film traced the last days of Vincent’s life through the eyes of a young man (Douglas Booth), who happens to be the son of Vincent’s postman. The film’s filled with plenty of familiar faces (at least to me as I’m into British shows/films) portraying people in Vincent’s life (Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, Eleanor Tomlinson and her Poldark‘s co-star Aidan Turner).

Written and directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman, it’s really quite an endeavor and astonishing to behold. It’s not the strongest film in terms of narrative however, but still it’s an incredible feat to accomplish. It’s quite something to want to tell an artist’s story through his painting, to actually do it–and done it well–is astounding. Well-deserved of its Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations, I was also rooting for it to win an Oscar in Best Animated Feature category. It’s definitely a must-see for art fans or really anyone up for something you’ve never seen before.

Loving Vincent left me in awe of Van Gogh’s talents but also saddened by his troubled life. I think most artistic genius are tortured souls and he’s definitely one of them.


Have you seen Loving Vincent? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review – Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018)

The Mission: Impossible film franchise is one of the few that somehow got better and better after its third sequel struggle to make a dent at the box office. Not only did the later sequels were financially successful, they’re also critically darlings. Looking at Rottentomatoes.com, Mission: Impossible 4-6 received mid to high 90% rating.

After a mission gone wrong and three nuclear missile heads are in the hands of a new group of terrorists known as The Apostles, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his teammates Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) must retrieve the weapons. When Hunt was getting an intel briefing from his boss Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), as to where he can find the nuclear weapons, they’re both got interrupted by a new CIA director Erica Sloan (Angela Bassett). Sloan is upset that the IMF team lost the nuclear heads and insists that her agent August Walker (Henry Cavill) must go with Ethan to retrieve them.

First on their task is to capture and impersonate a man named John Lark (Liang Yang) and meet with a mysterious woman named White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), in Paris who has the connection to the Apostles. But when Hunt and Walker met with White Widow, she insisted that they must break out an international terrorist and Hunt’s nemesis Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) from prison or they won’t get the nuclear weapons. Of course this complicates the mission but both Hunt and Walker went along and helped Lane escaped. Along the way, Hunt ran into an old friend Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). She’s also has her own mission and that is to eliminate Lane for good. Well, things never go as planned and Hunt must use all of his skills to try to save the world from chaos and also save those who he cares about.

For the first time in franchise history, the same director and writer Christopher McQuarrie of the previous film has returned and take charge of this new mission. To my surprise, McQuarrie has exceeded what he created in the last picture. He crafted a complexed storyline that’s full of twists, drama, humor and big action sequences. By hiring new crew members, notably a new cinematographer and composer, he was able to differentiate this film from the last one. It’s clearly that he used Nolan’s The Dark Knight as his inspiration for this outing. The film even contains a big chase that’s very similar to a chase sequence from The Dark Knight. A big bathroom brawl, a spectacular motorcycle and car chase through the streets of Paris and a helicopter chase are the highlights of the set pieces.

Cinematographer Rob Hardy is having a good year. He shot the excellent Annihilation for Alex Garland earlier this year and again for this film, he did a tremendous job. This film contains so many wide shots in the series since Woo’s Mission: Impossible 2. This is good because we the audience can actually see the action and not trying to figure out what’s going on super chaotic scenes. Shout out also goes to composer Lorne Balfe who apparently is the understudy of Hans Zimmer. So, of course this film’s score sounds like it’s was composed by Zimmer. There’s still the well know Mission: Impossible theme but Balfe made it sounded like something very original. Just a little trivia, Hans Zimmer did compose a Mission: Impossible film, he worked on the second one.

With three box office bombs in a row, Cruise poured all of his performance into this film. He did the usual crazy stunts but was willing to show his character’s age and flaws by having him get his ass whooped a few times in the film. The rest of the cast members were pretty good too. I was afraid Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust might just be nothing more than a cameo but her role was an integral part of the story and as usual she saved Hunt’s life couple of times in the film. Simon and Luthor didn’t really have much to do except to be comic relief. Luther did have a touching scene with Ilsa, I really liked that scene. I liked the addition of Alec Balwin’s character and he even got involved in one action scene with the team members. Bassett and Cavill were a nice addition and I hope we see more of Bassett’s character in the next Mission film. Kirby’s White Widow is an interesting character and I thought she played the role quite well even though she didn’t get a lot of screen time.

Having seen the film twice already, I can declare Fallout is the best Mission: Impossible film yet. It’s full of humor, great tensions and spectacular actions sequences. If there’s an IMAX, Dolby Cinema or other large vendor theater near you, go see it there. It’s definitely my favorite film of the summer and maybe even of the year.


So have you seen Mission Impossible: Fallout? Well, what did YOU think?

Music Break: ABBA’s songs in Mamma Mia!

Happy midweek everyone! It’s kind of a sleepy Wednesday even though just exactly a week ago I was extremely busy casting for my upcoming short film project, Master Servant. It was my first time holding auditions (as I didn’t have to do that Hearts Want) and let’s just say it was quite an experience. I have even more appreciation for actors (especially working actors) and what they have to go through to land a part.

In any case, well I saw Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again last week… it had been such a whirlwind few weeks that I needed a crowd-pleaser type of movie and it definitely did the trick. It’s funny but when the original first came out, I didn’t even bother to see it and wasn’t really interested. But my friend in San Diego has the DVD so I ended up watching it when I visited her. I actually grew up listening to ABBA (who’s my brother’s fave) and it was fun nostalgia hearing the catchy tunes once again. As for the movie, well I don’t think it would’ve worked at all without ABBA’s music to be honest. It’s the kind of contagiously rousing songs you can’t help but being drawn to it, heck the songs have been stuck in my head for days since I saw the sequel! Plus having Meryl Streep and a pretty phenomenal cast doesn’t hurt. Amanda Seyfried is pretty good as Sophie (Streep’s daughter) but it’s Julie Walters and Christine Baranski who’s truly light up the screen. I wish we all had them as our besties!

Oh and the scenery!! Honestly, I was gawking at the amazing Greek islands (filmed on location on Skopelos, Skiathos and Damouhari Pelion) which surely have become a major tourist attraction now thanks to the movie. Who hasn’t fantasized living in such a incredible place, running a hotel with your handsome boyfriend and your three dads consist of Mr. Darcy, James Bond and Thor’s Dr. Selvig?? I mean, come on!!

Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård and Pierce Brosnan as Sophie’s three dads

It’s the kind of movie to just put off your thinking caps and be ready to groove! So here are some of my fave songs and/or scenes from the original and the sequel:

Ok yes it’s a silly movie, but I couldn’t help but tearing up a bit hearing this rendition of The Winner Takes It All (darn you Meryl!)

Donna looked so believably devastated in this scene… I wish the sequel had more oomph in showing her romance with Sam in the flashback scene. I feel like this scene in the original was far more emotional than the entire scene of young Donna & Sam in the sequel.

Oh man, what an end credits!! Such a hoot to see all the three dads in full disco gear. Looks like the entire cast had such a great time making this that they totally went all out in the bohemian spirit of the movie!!

I’ve been a fan of Lily James since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Cinderella, she’s instantly likable and apparently this girl can sing! I actually like her rendition of this melancholy song… yeah she’s my current girl crush.

I really, really enjoyed this scene and the song Why Did It Have To Be Me. I adore Lily James as young Donna (not an easy task playing the young version of a character originally played by Meryl Streep, but she did a fine job!) and Josh Dylan (young Bill) is my fave of the three young actors.

Well one of the highlights of the sequel is Cher (natch!)… and her fans would likely NOT be disappointed. She only appears at the end but her rendition of Fernando (a duet with Andy Garcia), as teased in all the promos, is pretty darn amusing.


Hope you enjoy this Music Break. Well, which ABBA song(s) is your favorite?

FlixChatter Review: EQUALIZER 2 (2018)

With such a long and successful career, it’s hard to believe that Denzel Washington has never starred in a sequel until now. The first Equalizer film was a modest success at the box office, but I didn’t think it warrants a sequel. But then again, this is an era in Hollywood when every movie can be turned into a franchise.

Retired secret agent Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) still lives under the radar and uses his special skills to help the helpless. As the story begins, he rescued a little girl from her evil father and returned her to her mother. After the successful mission, McCall is back in Boston where he works as a Lyft driver. He lives a mundane life and try to stay out of the limelight as much as possible. One day he was notified that his friend and ex-colleague Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo) was murdered while investigating an assassination of an asset who worked for the CIA. He realized someone from his past is trying to get rid of his teammates and he must use his skills to find out who’s responsible. He enlisted the help of his old partner Dave York (Pedro Pascal) and the two must work together again to find out who’s behind the killings.

Written by Richard Wenk, who also wrote the first film, the story is pretty straightforward. There aren’t any surprises or anything that hasn’t been done in this kind of genre. There are couple of subplots that didn’t really add much to the narrative. One involves McCall trying to help an old man reunite with is long lost sister and the other involves him trying to help his young neighbor kid from gang violence. These two subplots just slowed down the main plot of the story and made the film a lot longer than it should’ve been.

With not much of a deep plot, you’d think director Antoine Fuqua would fill the void with big action scenes after another, but surprisingly the film lacks big thrills. The film contains only couple of fight scenes and a big climatic sequence that takes place during a hurricane. Now I don’t know if Fuqua couldn’t get enough money to shoot more action scenes or he just wanted to make this one more of low key action film. I do have to give shout out to director of photography Oliver Wood, who I think is very underrated, this film looks pretty great. The aforementioned hurricane sequence was one of the best shot action scenes I’ve ever seen. He and Fuqua did a great job of combining practical effects and CGI.

Washington again commands the screen and he’s great as usual. He’s able to convey a character who has all these special skills and willing to help people, but his personal life is nothing special. Here’s a man who’s trying to escape his past and trying to atone for whatever he did by helping others, but he can’t seem to help himself. The rest of actors were kind of just there to fill the screen so Washington to interact with. None of the supporting cast members stood out to me.

The film is way too long and needed better pacing. Hopefully for the third sequel, they can come up with a better story and give us more action. I still enjoyed this one, just like the first film, I don’t have the urge to see it again anytime soon.

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So have you seen EQUALIZER 2? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: SKYSCRAPER (2018)

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Review by Vitali Gueron

I was eagerly anticipating the release of the movie Skyscraper, partially because it is not a sequel and it is one of only a few blockbusters coming out this summer that aren’t part of a franchise. The movie is written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber and stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Will Sawyer, an amputee who is forced to save his family from terrorists inside a burning building. Sawyer walks with a prosthetic leg due to a hostage situation gone wrong that costs Sawyer his leg while working as an FBI agent. This is how the movie opens, and in all places, a fictitious remote town in Minnesota in the middle of winter.

We next see Sawyer 10 years later, as a security expert consulting for the Hong Kong skyscraper known as “The Pearl.” The structure is billed as the tallest building in the world, easily eclipsing the real life tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and nearly tripling the height of the Empire State Building in New York City, at a height of over 3,500 feet. The signature touch of the building is the spherical object at the crest of the tower, looking just like a freshly-plucked, shiny pearl form the bottom of the sea. Sawyer also brings his family to Hong Kong, including his wife Sarah (played by Neve Campbell) and two grade school children. They are put up in the yet-to-opened residential section of The Pearl, on the 98th floor of the gigantic building. While Sawyer gets ready for his security presentation to The Pearl’s owner Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), along with his fellow former FBI agent Ben (Pablo Schreiber) who has set up the meeting, his wife and kids set off to visit the famous local panda bears of Hong Kong.

When Ben leads Sawyer to an offsite apartment in Hong Kong, we realize what Ben’s true intentions are and soon enough we realize that he is not on our side. Speaking of bad guys, we are introduced to a team of villains, led by the menacing Kores Botha (Roland Moller), who have broken in to the building with highly flammable chemicals and intend to steal something belonging to Zhao Long Ji inside his penthouse, 220 stories above ground level. The situation intensifies when Sawyer’s wife Sarah calls him to tell him that they’ve returned to The Pearl after one of his kids wasn’t feeling well. When Botha’s men ignite the highly flammable chemicals on the building’s 90th floor, and manager to turn off the building’s fire suppression system, Sawyer’s family becomes trapped on the 98th floor of a burning skyscraper in the middle of Hong Kong Island. It is then up to Sawyer to return to the skyscraper and try to rescue his family before the whole building is engulfed in flames.

This is when the movie begins to completely fall of the rails as Dwayne Johnson scales a nearby construction crane – over 90 floors and without a harness – and uses the crane’s hook to break a window of the nearby skyscraper so that he can swing in – or jump inside the building, all while being chased by and shot at by the Hong Kong police who actually think he is the bad guy (I guess they’ve never seen a Dwayne Johnson movie). At times, the movie looks more like a modern day Die Hard with explosive sequences rather than a situation where it could potentially happen. But the character Will Sawyer is no John McClane, and as the action gets increasingly absurd, most of the suspense and excitement dissipates, mostly because it’s clear that neither Sawyer, nor his family are in any real danger. Although, this cannot be said for building owner Zhao Long Ji, who becomes trapped in his penthouse on the 220th floor, and when his security staff is taken out by the team of villains, he has to rely on Will Sawyer to save him. Don’t worry! The billionaire owner of The Pearl knows who to trust at the end of the day.

While Dwayne Johnson has been relatively successful in his recent movies Rampage(see Ted Saydalavong’s review from earlier this year) and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (see my review from last year), Skyscraper becomes just another film that squanders Johnson’s movie-star charisma and witty sense of humor. Apart from a few scenes where Will’s resourceful and bad-ass wife (with just a few on-screen minutes from Neve Campbell) almost single-handedly saves the day, the over-the-top CGI sequences that could have been converted to 3D and added during post production (but were not for whatever reason). The film left me wanting something more than what this scorched skyscraper disaster flick had to offer. The faster they tried to top other films in this genre in terms of sheer spectacle, the harder it became to take seriously, even as Sawyer’s children stay trapped inside the towering inferno (pun intended) facing all but certain doom. I was certain this movie was void of any character, emotion and soul from early on and sadly I was never proven wrong by the end.


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

Indie Sci-Fi Film Spotlight: HOVER – Review + Q &A with director Matt Osterman

HOVER takes place in the near future, where environmental strain has caused food shortages around the world. Technology provides a narrow path forward, with agricultural drones maximizing the yield from what land remains. Two compassionate care providers, Claudia and her mentor John, work to assist sick farmland inhabitants in ending their lives. After John dies under mysterious circumstances, a group of locals helps Claudia to uncover a deadly connection between the health of her clients and the technology they are using.

Starring: Cleopatra Coleman, Shane Coffey, Craig muMs Grant, Beth Grant
Written by: Cleopatra Coleman
Directed by: Matt Osterman

Available on VOD (Amazon) and iTUNES: July 3, 2018
Running Time: 1h 26min
Rated: Not Yet Rated

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It’s always a pleasure to chat with writer/director Matt Osterman. He suggested we went to a boutique coffee shop called KOPPLIN’S in St Paul’s Merriam Park Neighborhood. We chatted over the refreshing Iced Chai about his new sci-fi film HOVER. It’s been over two years since I chatted with him about 400 Days, which he wrote and directed. It’s always fun to chat about movies with someone who’s passionate about storytelling and the filmmaking craft. Just like Debra Granik, Matt also lives ‘off the grid’ away from Hollywood, as he and his family resides in a Twin Cities suburbs, but that hasn’t stopped him from making movies wherever it takes him.

Quick Thoughts on HOVER:

Hover is a sci-fi thriller set in the near future. The two main characters we saw are Claudia (Cleopatra Coleman) and John (Craig muMs Grant), two caregivers who help terminally ill farmers ‘transition’ as they call it. There’s an air of mystery that something isn’t quite right, which gives that unsettling tension throughout the movie. Without giving too much away, soon Claudia has to face her suspicion about the flying drones and uncovers a conspiracy that’s more sinister than meets the eye.

What I like about HOVER is that the film doesn’t feel like a sci-fi in the traditional sense. The characters inhabit a world we’re familiar with, with a few futuristic elements thrown in. The fact that it’s set in a rural dystopia, it sets it apart from most sci-fis that are set in urban areas and immediately feels more grounded. It helps too that both Coleman and Grant are instantly likable, which makes you want to know more about their journey.

There’s genuine tension in the initial built-up, the flying drones hovering above certainly gives that voyeuristic feel. In the world we live in now, there’s that fear of ‘Big Brother’ watching over us that is relatable. There is also a subplot about Claudia involving someone she works with that adds more complexity to her character.

I do wish there’s more to the characters. It’d be great if the relationship between Claudia and John is explored a bit deeper. Shane Coffey and Beth Grant turned up midway though the film, and both add interesting dynamic to the story, though the finale gets a bit too bombastic for my taste. The flying drones also don’t seem all that menacing, though the design itself is pretty cool looking, as is the way it kills (or you could say ‘fry’) its prey.

Overall HOVER is an enjoyable sci-fi that at 86 minutes moves at a relatively breezy pace. It’s a cautionary tale about the misuse of technology, especially deadly when mixed with corporate greed, without making it feel too heavy-handed. This is the first time I saw Cleopatra Coleman and she’s certainly got a charismatic presence on screen, as well as screenwriting talent. I certainly would love to more of her work in the future.


Here’s my Q&A with Matt:

How did you become involved in this project?

I was sent the script by a producer by the name of Travis Stevens. I’ve known Travis, we’re friends of friends for a few years. He’s kind of a big deal in the indie genre world, he’s got a great taste and he’s been producing stuff that pushes the boundaries so I’ve always wanted to work with him. He approaced me with the script and later on SyFy got involved. I had heard of Cleopatra Coleman, and when I read the script I knew I wanted to play in that world, in that sandbox, so that’s why I signed on.

So Cleopatra Coleman wrote the script and did you collaborate with her?

Yes she had written the entire thing, she built that world. When I got the script, both Travis and Cleopatra said to me, ‘Hey we need some input. We’re running into some problems here, we want to flesh this out more, etc.’ So it’s a great team approach to take it to the next level.

The theme of rural dystopia is not something that’s rarely explored in sci-fi films. Movies of that genres tend to be set in a metropolitan or large cities. What’s the inspiration behind setting this story in a rural area, especially in farmlands?

Part of it is the fact that we don’t see things set in rural areas. I mean it’s easy to set things in the future in an urban setting and I find it boring. We want to make something that showed the haves and the have-nots, something that plays out in today’s society. People who have one foot in the future, one foot in the past, we wanted to explore that kind of dichotomy a little bit further.

Cleopatra actually started with these two care providers that helped transition people, but then in the rural environment there were these farm drones. She thought those farm drones were pretty interesting and she started exploring more about the drones and how they’re affecting the farm community.

So I’m curious about how you worked with this cast, especially given the fact that the lead actor also wrote the film. How did the collaboration process go in this filmmaking scenario?

Well to be honest, that was my first concern. It could go sideways in a hurry. If you butt heads, how do you work your way out of it? But luckily for us in this case, she’s an amazing collaborator. She’s totally open to ideas. On set, performances comes first for her and that’s how I wanted it to be. Every now and then, a problem or an opportunity came along and we’d have a little powow and discuss ‘Hey what can we do here? What can we do for that? So it works in our favors quite a bit and she’s able to wear multiple hats.

Cleo came from an improv background y’know, having been in the show Last Man on Earth, so she’s really quick to turn on a dime. Because she knows her character so well, having written it, it’s easy for us to play. It helps that she’s already inhabit her character when she wrote it.

Let’s talk about the drones. They look like something we’d see in the world today, it’s not too futuristic. Did you help design the drones, capturing the movements and all that?

Yeah. We wanted the technology in this world to feel utilitarian y’know, like it’s actually being used. It’s not as if some production designer just sketched something really cool and say, let’s make that a thing. We wanted the world in our movie to feel lived in and real, because when you talk about fantastical things like killer drones, we have to ground it in as much reality as possible. So we ended up hiring a technology designer, a great artist Calder Greenwood out of L.A. He built the drones, hand-built them out of found objects. The ‘eyes’ are lens from a camera, the rotors are from slide projectors, so he built them by hand. He was able to found parts so he could build multiple of them. We have a bunch of puppet drones that we could move them around in different ways, some on a string, or on a different rig and obviously the CG drone. So they did a 3D scan of the practical drone and they built things with CGI.

Where did you film this?

Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Lots of Agriculture down there. I lobbied to shoot it in the Midwest but we were shooting in February and March. It’s perfect to shoot there in that time, it’s not too hot but the bugs aren’t out yet. The shoot was 21-22 days so things happened pretty fast.

What’s been the biggest challenges on set of HOVER?

The first day, there was lightning storm nearby. And when there’s lightning, you have to stop and wait like 60 minutes before you do anything. This is the first time I shot Louisiana so I didn’t know if it’s going to be a daily thing. Luckily it only happened a handful of times, but an hour is kind of a big deal when you’re filming. But I would say the hardest part was dealing with all the action stuff, you always want more time and more money to do those. We used every tools in the books to shoot those truck chase scenes. We used actual drones following the truck, but we only shot that scene in less than a day!

Is this film a cautionary tale about technology? What message does the film want to convey about today’s technology and where it’s heading?

Yes and no. First and foremost, it’s a movie and we want to have fun with it. There’s a lot of liberties you can take with a movie, because y’know, it’s a movie, it’s entertainment. At the same time, we’re entering a pretty scary period in terms of technology. There are some people in power using technology in ways that can be awfully scary.  So if there is a message, it’s about unchecked technology and people in power without repercussions can lead to some pretty bad things. I mean, just how fast technology is moving right now, I think it’ll get worse before it gets better. I’m a technology guy, I want to see progressive technology happen ‘cause it can make the world a better place. Some people say it’s already being used for its intent and purposes, it’s gonna get more powerful, faster, smaller… well, it can get creepy. I’m not really a tin foil-hat type of guy but when it comes to drones… I’m a little nervous.

Rightly so, I feel the same way. Now, I’d like to switch gear a bit and talk about you as a filmmaker. You live here in the Twin Cities, but you make films out in L.A. or elsewhere. How do you juggle your filmmaking career and being a dad/husband?

Yeah, the hardest part outside the production is finding a way you live your life while keeping all the plates spinning at the same time, so to speak. Luckily I have an amazing wife and cool kids. They get it you know, daddy has a job and he’s not a coal miner with black lungs, he’s not a soldier going overseas. He gets to make movie, which is not so bad and they can come and visit. They came once because they have school and my wife also has to work. It’s not easy during [filming] but the rest of the year, I mean I’m a writer first and foremost and you can do that from anywhere. Staying outside of the L.A. bubble also has its advantages too, so you can bring something fresh and original.

Lastly, any advice for aspiring and emerging filmmakers, esp. those living in the Twin Cities, away from the filmmaking hub of LA/NYC/Atlanta.

This industry is filled with ego-driven jerks. Don’t be one of those. Be grateful, communicate and most importantly, finish something. There’s so many people that start projects, they ask for help and support and they don’t finish. Then those people are hesitant to help them again, or anybody else. You’re just wasting people’s time. You gotta walk the walk. Lots of people come for the glory, for the fame, but you gotta come in [to the entertainment business] for the right reasons and work your tail off. It’s not easy, so don’t expect things to happen overnight.


Don’t miss the Twin Cities Screening!

Friday, July 13th, 2018
6:30pm – Red Carpet Interviews/Photos
7pm & 9pm – Screenings

 Q&A with Director after each screening

Location
Emagine/Willow Creek Theater
9900 Shelard Pkwy.
Plymouth, MN  55441
TICKETS
Earlybird (13+ yrs of age) – $10
Same Day (13+yrs of age) – $12
(TCFF Members receive complimentary admission – must pre-register)

Get Tickets »

*TCFF Members receive FREE entry. Another reason to become a member today!

HOVER is currently available on Amazon, iTunes, and VOD

FlixChatter Review: Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018)

I can’t believe it’s been three years since Ant-Man came out. Perhaps because we saw the character in Captain America: Civil War, it felt like I had just seen him recently. This movie actually takes place following the aftermath of Captain America 3, which explains why Ant-Man isn’t fighting with his fellow Avengers in Infinity War.

The immensely likable Paul Rudd returns as Scott Lang and here he grapples with the consequences of being a superhero and a dad. I love the opening sequence of Scott playing with his adorable daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) at his well-equipped home as he’s in house arrest (due to his involvement with the Avengers). He’s only days away of being a free man when suddenly he’s dragged back into his life as Ant-Man and re-team with Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas).

I’m not going to mention what the urgent new mission is, but those who saw the first film could probably guess what it is. Speaking of which, Michelle Pfeiffer shows up as a prominent character and she’s always lovely to watch. I wish the film would just focus more on that storyline, instead of overcrowding it with multiple plots. In fact, one of the main plots involving a ghost named Ava (Hannah John-Kamen) who can phase through objects is so boring and the serious tone feels off compared to the rest of the movie. Thankfully, for the most part Peyton Reed succeeded in creating yet another fun-filled Marvel adventure, thanks to the fantastic cast.

I love that this time Ant-Man sort of play second banana to The Wasp in many ways, especially during the action scenes. Hope is such a take-charge woman-with-a-mission character that she’s a natural born leader, while Scott is always one step behind. The dynamic works well and makes for some hilarious moments. Rudd is such comedic gold, even just him doing ordinary things around the house is funny! I truly can’t imagine anyone else in the role (another spot-on casting that Marvel Studios have done, just like Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man). The supporting cast are a hoot just like the original. I gotta say Randall Park as an FBI agent & Lang’s parole officer and Michael Peña (with his mad rapping style) as one of Lang’s bff/business partners are especially hilarious.

The quantum realm ‘science’ of the shrinking and expanding of the characters is never clear to me but what I love is that this movie knows that full well and uses it to its advantage. “So you just put quantum in front of everything?” Scott Lang quipped at one point during the discussion w/ Hank Pym’s former assistant played by Laurence Fishburne (ahah so now we’ve got Samuel L. Jackson‘s arch rival joining Marvel too, awesome!) I think the movie’s low point is the villains, what’s with Walton Goggins playing yet another lame villain after seeing him in the Tomb Raider reboot. He plays a low-level blue-collar criminal who wants to steal Pym’s technology to sell it on the black market. He’s once again outsmarted by a woman here as his character is absolutely idiotic. That said, and even with the plots and subplots piling up, this movie still moves along at a breezy pace with dynamic action scenes. I don’t normally care for 3D but this time I didn’t mind as it actually looks good.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the action scenes, especially the main chase scene through San Francisco, showcasing some of its landmarks. All of the shrinking and expanding scenes are hilarious and a joy to watch, especially when big Ant-Man rides a pick-up truck like a kiddy scooter! Oh and I’ll never be able to stop giggling every time I hear the name Antonio Banderas now 😛

I gotta hand it to Marvel Studio honcho Kevin Feige, under his leadership the Studio really thrives in creating a plethora of movies that have its own individual style yet ties in as a whole to the Avengers’ story. Like Thor: Ragnarok, this movie is mostly a comedy but more family-friendly instead of the more sardonic style of Taika Waititi’s humor.

The Ant-Man may be tiny but this sequel sure is a huge dose of fun! I don’t even mind watching it again on the big screen. Definitely check this out if you enjoyed the first one, but even if you hadn’t seen the original, I think you’d still enjoy it. Oh and Marvel fans, you want to stay for the mid-credit scene 😉

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So have you seen Ant-Man and The Wasp? Well, what did you think?