TWIN CITIES FILM FEST announces a star-studded 2018 lineup!

TCFF announces a diverse and inspiring lineup of films for their 2018 festival, to be held October 17-27 at Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON Theatres at The Shops at West End with ICON•X. Coming off of a successful September Gala that honored Steve Zahn with the Lifetime Achievement Award and Rachel Mairose from Secondhand Hounds with the Changemaker Award, this year’s festival will officially open their ninth year with Peter Farrelly’s Green Book (November 21, Participant Media and DreamWorks Pictures).

When Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), a bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx, is hired to drive Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a world-class Black pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South, they must rely on “The Green Book” to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans. Confronted with racism, danger—as well as unexpected humanity and humor—they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime.

Green Book recently won the Toronto International Film Festival’s coveted People’s Choice Award this past week! Producer Jim Burke, Academy Award nominee for “The Descendants,” will be attending.

Opening night festivities will also include a screening of Time for Ilhan, a documentary about State Representative and Federal House candidate, Ilhan Omar, who will be in attendance along with director Norah Shapiro and cinematographer Chris Newberry.

The Centerpiece Highlight on Friday, October 19 is the Newport Beach Film Festival hit comedy When Jeff Tried to Save the World starring Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite). Heder and director Kendall Goldberg will be in attendance. United Skates, a documentary about roller skating and a community’s battle to save an underground subculture will close out the festival on October 27, with producer and Minnesota native Tiffany Fisher-Love in attendance.

Other visiting guests this year include David Arquette and Tom Arnold with the U.S. premiere of Saving Flora, the story of a 14-year-old girl who kidnaps an elephant from a circus to take it to a nature reserve, screening on October 22. Chef Andrew Zimmern will also be in attendance on Thursday, October 25 for the Midwest premiere of Chef Flynn, a documentary about a ten-year-old who transformed his living room into a supper club and achieved sudden fame.

TCFF is also thrilled to feature Widows (20th Century Fox) a modern-day thriller from Steve McQueen starring Viola Davis and Liam Neeson, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Fox Searchlight Pictures) starring Melissa McCarthy, Boy Erased (Focus Features) starring Joel Edgerton and Nicole Kidman and The Favourite (Fox Searchlight Pictures) starring Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.

In addition to their regular programming this year, TCFF is pleased to collaborate with the Jewish Film Festival and the Northstar Science Film Festival, showing a slate of thought provoking films while launching a brand new initiative, TCFF Tech. TCFF Tech is a one-of-a-kind 3-day event spotlighting the impact of technology on social issues, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

I’ll post the complete schedule later with some of my most-anticipated selections!

Tickets are on-sale this weekend for TCFF Members and will be open to the public next week beginning Friday, September 28th, 2018. Ticket prices are $12 for General Admission & $20 for Gala Tickets.

Festival Passes can also be purchased as follows: Silver Pass – $50 (5 pack of non-Gala tickets); Gold Pass – $80 (10 pack of non-Gala tickets); Platinum Pass – $120 (12 pack of non-Gala tickets + 2 Gala tickets); Gala Pass – $100 (6 tickets to any Gala Film); and the All Access Pass – $500 (Guaranteed seat in premiere row at ANY screening +more!).


To learn more about TCFF, events, film submissions or to donate, visit the newly-redesigned twincitiesfilmfest.org

 


Oh and as if great films aren’t enough for the 11-day festivities, check out the amazing lineup of FREE EDUCATIONAL events!!


So yeah, TCFF 2018 can’t come soon enough!

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FlixChatter Review: Peppermint (2018)

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Director: Pierre Morel
Writer: Chad St. John
Running Time: 1h 42min

Review by: Vitali Gueron

Jennifer Garner makes her return to the action genre with the movie Peppermint, directed by Taken director Pierre Morel. After many years of male stars exacting revenge on criminals (think Liam Neeson in the Taken franchise), it now became Garner’s turn to just that, but unfortunately the whole setup by now has become tired and overused. Despite a well-acted and very committed performance by the lead actress, Peppermint unfortunately is a very forgettable and rather bland action movie that leaves almost no impressions with the audience.

Garner plays wife and mother Riley North, who we find out early on is a very committed mother and isn’t afraid to take on other parents who try to come between her and her daughter. When Riley and her husband Chris (Jeff Hephner) turn to plan B after their daughter’s birthday party doesn’t go as planned, they decide to cheer up their daughter Carly’s (Cailey Fleming) spirits with a spontaneous trip to a Christmas Fair for some fun and ice cream.

When asked what ice cream flavor young Carly wanted, she asked for – you guessed it – Peppermint. Before leaving the fair, husband Chris called up his friend Mickey (Chris Johnson) to inform him that he was pulling out of a proposed robbery job that would see him make a lot of money but potentially risking his family’s well-being. Unfortunately, the drug kingpin they wanted to steal from, Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba) learns about their plans and decides to move first.

Already having taken care of Mickey, Diego sends his gang thugs to follow the family at the fair, and shockingly gun down both Chris and Carly in front of Riley. Due to massive corruption in the criminal justice system, Chris and Carly’s killers are allowed to walk free, while the judge forces Riley to be institutionalized in a psychological care ward. Riley escapes and for the next five years she falls off the grid, only to return when she’s ready to bring the murderers to justice on her terms.

This is where the movie goes off the deep end, with Riley taking out everyone from Chris and Carly’s killers (leaving them hanging with their feet tied up off a Farris wheel) to the judge who freed their killers and tried to institutionalize her (by blowing up his house with him inside). Meanwhile LAPD detectives Stan Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr.) and Moises Beltran (Ray Ortiz) are on Riley’s trail and unsurprisingly to the viewers, one of the detectives is good while the other is bad and is working with drug kingpin Diego Garcia and his gang members. Neither one of the supporting actors are memorable or given any substantial material to work with. The rest of the villains are faceless cartel and gang members who are trying to track down Riley before she causes any more problems for their operation and neutralize drug kingpin Diego Garcia.

While Peppermint does have some strong action sequences, there isn’t one single sequence that stands above the rest as the sequence everyone will be talking about after the end. If you’re a die-hard Jennifer Garner fan, you may enjoy this movie more than I did, but I will only remember this movie as a failed attempt to bring back the revenge thriller genre with the hopes that miss Garner can do what many before her could not. It won’t be long before this revenge thriller is also forgotten.


Have you seen ‘PEPPERMINT’? Well, what did you think? 

TCFF 2018 Interviews: Steve Zahn


Not everyday I got the opportunity one of my favorite actors… so imagine my excitement that I got a one-on-one interview with Steve Zahn! I’ve mentioned a bit about Mr. Zahn in my TCFF gala recap last week. A Minnesota native who’ve carved out a fantastic career in Hollywood, Steve is as humble and funny as you’d imagine, no movie star pretense whatsoever and he still looks incredibly young for being 50 years old (in fact he certainly could pass for 35!). Before the interview started, he remarked to me and a rep from Showplace ICON Theatres that it’s ‘f***ing’ bizarre’ to be doing the red carpet, press, etc. as he usually does the glitz and glamor stuff in L.A. and he comes home to Minnesota to be away from all that. He actually stays with his parents while he’s in town, in the same house he grew up in in New Hope (Minneapolis suburbs) instead of at a swanky hotel.

Steve Zahn with his TCFF Lifetime Achievement Award

Once we sat down, I asked him when was the last time he was in MN and he replied ‘A month ago for my 80th birthday.’ Apparently he’s also home every Christmas, splitting his time between his family ranch in Kentucky where he lives with his wife and two teenage kids. I congratulated him on the Lifetime Achievement Award he’s about to receive from TCFF. It’s hard to believe he’s got over 70 projects under his belt listed on IMDb, spanning over two decades since he got his big break in Reality Bites in 1994. One of Hollywood’s best and most versatile actor, he’s a self-described character actor who can easily transition into leading roles. He’s one of those talents who’s great in everything he does. He always stands out and you’d remember him matter how small the role is.

Below is a photo of Steve receiving the award from TCFF’s executive director Jatin Setia last Thursday, Sept.6:

Thanks TCFF photographer Dallas Smith for this awesome photo!

When I mentioned the Lifetime Achievement Award, Steve had this to say… ”As an actor you do one gig and it’s over and you do another. It doesn’t connect, it’s not like it’s a continuous thing. I just got a text from my cousin. She drives snow plows in West Central Minnesota, she’s worked for the state for 30 years and she got a watch. I mean it doesn’t happen in my business. So it’s weird to look back at things you did that you think they don’t connect but they do connect in a weird way.”

 You got started doing theatre work here in Minnesota and New York City. Do you miss doing theatre work?

Oh yeah, absolutely. For me, it’s weird because of where I live, the commitment to theatre would take me away from my family too long. Film commitments are shorter. I can work for three months, and you can come home during that time and then I’m done. As opposed to theatre commitments which is like 8 shows a week and one day off. For me it’s more logistics and family [that prevents him from doing more theatre work].

Steve with Ethan Hawke in the 1993 play ‘Sophistry’ – Photo courtesy of Playwrights Horizon

You have been doing a lot of TV work recently (he’s currently filming Valley of the Boom, a docudrama that’ll air on National Geographic focusing on the 1990s tech boom and bust in Silicon Valley). Are you enjoying that?

Well yes, both TV and film. It’s the trend of the business, the TV medium has expanded beyond belief. Writers have gone from film to tv to tell these intricate, character-driven stories. It used to be the opposite when films are the ones doing that, so it’s interesting to see the change. There was a time when talents sort of get labeled as a ‘TV actor’ so if you want to be a film actor you don’t do TV. It’s totally different now, that stigma is gone completely. For me, I just want to do good stuff, tell good stories with compelling characters. That’s what I look for, I don’t care what the medium is, whether it’s for the small screen or big screen, no matter what the budget is.

You’ve done SO many projects but we don’t have time to go over all of those. I have my favorites you’ve done such as You’ve Got Mail, That Thing You Do!, Shattered Glass… but one I’m curious about is Rescue Dawn. It must be super challenging. How was it working with Werner Herzog?

Oh amazing. He’s an unusual guy but that whole project one of the highlights of my career. Having to physically change and to dive into a character that rigorously. To work with someone that eclectic, y’know, he’s really an interesting guy. Really simple, he was phenomenal. Every day was completely different. The fact that there was no trailers for actors, he doesn’t really like comfort… he loves chaos, he thrives off it, that’s when he’s most creative, not when things are comfortable.

I heard you lost 40 pounds for the role? And this wasn’t a big studio project right, so you must have to have done it on your own?

Oh yeah, Christian [Bale] and I did it for Werner, and because the story was amazing.

Another film I want to ask you about is War For the Planet of the Apes because I love motion-capture (mo-cap). How did you get involved in that project?

I was doing a TV show down in Puerto Rico and [director] Matt Reeves was interested in me playing the part so we have a conversation via Skype for over an hour about Westerns and stuff and he asked me if I would be willing to read for it. So he gave me three days, and I read for him over Skype and he loved it and wanted me to do it. I just said I needed a week at home in between jobs and then I was off in Vancouver running around for a couple of weeks playing an ape. That’s the closest thing that I’ve done to theatre on film, despite the huge budget [$150mil]. It was phenomenal. It was so physical and so difficult and challenging. Mo-cap captures your performance. It doesn’t make you an ape, it makes you look like an ape. So if you don’t move like one, you’re not going to look like one.

Down to the tiniest movement, you’d have to analyze how an ape behaves. We [humans] have a lot of pretense, we hold ourselves a certain way. But apes don’t do that. When we look at something, we do it in such a way, but apes do it totally differently. So you have to embody that, then forget about it so you have to be able to play a character with emotions.

Did you work with the ‘King of Mo-Cap’ Andy Serkis who played Caesar in the ‘Apes’ franchise?

Oh yeah he’s amazing. I really think Andy should’ve been nominated for an Oscar. I mean I voted for him when it was award season, it’s really difficult work. It’s harder than playing a regular cop, ‘cause now you have to play a cop that’s an ape, for example. If it weren’t for my theatre background, I really don’t think I would’ve been able to do that job.

In your illustrious career, you’ve worked with SO many people. Which of your co-stars you’d love to work with again?

Oh man, there’s so many. Ethan Hawke is a good friend of mine, all he has to do is call. Richard Linklater. Sam Rockwell, oh too many to mention.

Speaking of Ethan Hawke who’s gone into directing more and more. Is that something you would like to tackle in the future?

I don’t know. I’m not as bold… he’s an amazing artist. I mean, if there’s something I’m really passionate about, yeah maybe.

Last question. You mentioned that you lived in Kentucky, which is far from Hollywood. Is that a deliberate choice that you want to have a work and life balance?

No. It’s just another passion in life [to live as a rancher]. Even when I was doing theatre in New York I was living in a cabin in Pennsylvania. I always enjoy living outside, outdoors, I just enjoy that. I hunt, fish, farm, that’s who I am. Yet indirectly, as I get older, I think it’s nice to be able to go from one extreme to the other, that is the contrast of working in Hollywood and living in a ranch. I think it helps me as an artist. It may not be the best for someone else but for me it’s perfect. It keeps me ‘naïve’ and every time I go to every job it feels fresh, like the first time. I’m always on location in a way, I never work at home.


Soon after our interview, Steve was whisked away to the Rooftop Bar at AC Marriott Hotel. But thanks to TCFF Managing Director Bill Cooper who took the time to snap this photo of us before he left.

Thank you Steve Zahn for taking the time to chat with me… and Jatin Setia & Bill Cooper for the opportunity!


So what’s YOUR favorite Steve Zahn role(s)?

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FlixChatter Review – The Nun (2018)

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While I’m a fan of horror in general, I prefer the supernatural/paranormal sub-genre, and The Conjuring film series is easily one of my favorites out of the more recent paranormal horror movies. I always try to go into screenings with an open mind, but I couldn’t help having high expectations with The Nun.

The Nun follows Father Burke (Demian Bichir), a priest who specializes in paranormal investigation, and Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a novitiate about to take her final vows, to an isolated convent in Romania to look into the death of a nun. Joined by Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), the French-Canadian expatriate who discovered the corpse, the investigators discover an ancient and dangerous force of evil that manifests itself in the form of a demonic nun.

While The Nun is certainly a lot of fun, it’s hardly the best out of The Conjuring series. The biggest problem with it is its heavy reliance on CGI. While all the films in the series use CGI to an extent, they mostly achieve their scares through strategically shadowy shots and tense pacing. While they still utilize that method here, they place more focus on special effects to the point where it packs less of a punch. The demonic nun’s CGI face is especially silly.

The Nun also makes the mistake of beginning and ending with scenes from the first Conjuring movie, which just feels clumsy. Despite the films being connected, the scenes don’t blend well with the overall movie, and it’s confusing for people who haven’t seen the first film; the friend I attended the screening with had never seen the other movies and had to ask me what the scenes were about afterward. People who have seen the first movie would have still been able to appreciate the connection between the movies without having the scenes included, so there really is no good reason for having them there.

All that said, The Nun is still an enjoyable horror movie. A crumbling convent in the middle of a Romanian forest is the perfect setting for a story like this, providing a rich, dark atmosphere. Despite the cheesy CGI, there are still plenty of well-done and unpredictable jump scares. Lastly, the cast is excellent. Taissa Farmiga (sister of The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 lead Vera Farmiga) is no horror novice herself, and she shines in the role of Sister Irene, giving a likable and compelling performance. Jonas Bloquet is entertaining as Frenchie, providing enough levity without being just comedic relief, managing to portray a genuine, sympathetic character. Demian Bichir is fine as Father Burke; he’s not bad, but he’s not exactly memorable either, besides an unintentionally hilarious entrance in a flashback scene that cracked up my friend and me.

While The Nun isn’t necessarily going to be a horror classic, it’s still a decent addition to The Conjuring series, and seeing it is a nice way of kicking off the Halloween season.

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Have you seen ‘THE NUN’? Well, what did you think? 

Twin Cities Film Fest’s 2018 Preview Gala Recap + Meeting Steve Zahn

Whew!! What a night!! Thank God it’s Friday ’cause I’m still reeling from the festivities of last night’s event. I’ve mentioned in this post that Steve Zahn was TCFF’s honored guest and the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. With 70+ TV/Film works under his belt in his illustrious career, he certainly deserves it!!

I was lucky enough to get a 15-minute interview with Steve just before the Meet & Greet with him at AC Marriot Rooftop Bar Thursday night. Thanks to Jatin Setia (Executive Director) and Bill Cooper (Managing Director) for this amazing opportunity!

I’ll post the interview once I finished transcribing it next week, but let me just say it was truly fun AND inspiring to have a one-on-one chat with the super talented MN-native who remains down-to-earth and kind despite his Hollywood success. We chatted about his theatre background, training at Harvard’s prestigious American Repertory Theater program, before being discovered by Ben Stiler on a NYC play (Sophistry) he did with Ethan Hawke. The play landed both him and Hawke roles in Reality Bites in 1994.

We then talked about some of the highlights of his film career, including working with Christian Bale and Werner Herzog in Rescue Dawn and doing mo-cap acting with Andy Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes. Bad Ape is one of the highlights of that movie for me, and so it was so much fun to see his eyes light up talking about the experience. I too agree with Steve that Serkis deserved an Oscar for his mo-cap acting work!

Check out this video showing clips from dozens of Steve’s movies and tv work:

This year’s Preview Gala was even more festive as the year before, and I LOVE that they converted the ‘stage’ area into an elegant talk-show setting where the JASON Show host Jason Matheson interviewed Steve prior to the award presentation. Steve was his usual charming and funny self, being ever-so-humble and gracious about his career and even thanking his family and friends/mentors who have helped him along the way.

It was truly a fantastic event which made me all the more blessed and grateful to have been a part of TCFF since year one nine years ago!! This relatively young organization has brought SO much to the Twin Cities community, not just the film community but other non-profit organizations promoting and benefiting SO many social causes. Last night there were even puppies from Secondhand Hounds Animal Rescue Organization along with TCFF annual Silent Auction!

Jatin Setia’s FB post from this AM encapsulated everything about last night’s event…

Here are some pics of the festivities… wish I had been able to play with the puppies but I was busy registering guests at the check-in table. I had a blast volunteering with my friends last night, some of whom I’d be hanging out a ton during TCFF in October, yay!


While you’re at it, check out the brand spanking new TCFF website… check it often so you won’t miss any of the news and highlights!


So yeah, TCFF 2018… here. we. go!

FlixChatter Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society


When this movie came across my screen as I fired up Netflix, I knew this is the kind of movie I’d enjoy. Billed as a ‘celebration of literature, love, and the power of the human spirit,’ it’s a charming film set in an English island during WWII. It certainly helps that I’m an Anglophile and British period dramas are my cup of tea, plus this is based on a historical novel written by two women, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

I adore Lily James since Cinderella, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies and Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. She’s an instantly-likable actress and it’s easy to warm up to her character, Juliet Ashton a young London writer living in the shadow of the war. Despite the fact that she’s pretty successful, lives in a gorgeous Chelsea flat, her dashing publisher Sidney (Matthew Goode) is also her bestie, and she’s courted by a handsome American soldier (Glen Powell), Juliet doesn’t seem to be as happy as one would think. But her life is about to take a different turn when she gets a letter from Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman), a member of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Yep, the mouthful title is a book club that inadvertently got started on a fateful night involving Nazi soldiers in the occupied island of Guernsey. As the correspondence goes on, Juliet is set on writing a book about the book club, and so off she goes to an island in the English channel off the coast of Normandy.

I love the idea of a young woman setting of on an adventure, especially in a time when it wasn’t as free for women to do so. And I also love the fact that Juliet isn’t too eager to marry a seemingly too-good-to-be-true prince charming. Naturally, Juliet was treated like a celebrity once they meet the members of the Society, and that first meet-up where she was presented with the potato peel dish is a group meet-cute. I adore every single member of the Society, Amelia (Penelope Wilton), Elizabeth (Jessica Brown Findlay), Dawsey, Isola (Katherine Parkinson) and Eben (Tom Courtenay), the cast is a bit of a Downton Abbey mini-reunion with Goode, Findlay, Wilton and James herself were all part of the popular period drama cast. But despite their warm welcome, the group (especially Amelia) is vehemently opposed to the idea of Juliet writing an article about them for the Times.

The setback didn’t send Juliet immediately back to London. Instead she’s set on doing research about the German occupation on the island. As the group opens up to her more, she soon finds out about what has happened to Elizabeth. The less said about Juliet’s discovery the better, but it’s safe to say she has fallen in love with the town and the people in it. There’s a lovely tentative romance between Juliet and Dawsey (Huisman is sort of been type cast as romantic lead in period romances and he does well in these roles), but the bonding scenes between Juliet and the female members of the book club is equally delightful to watch. I have to say that Penelope Wilton is particularly memorable as the grieving mother. She’s a terrific character actress who can balance drama and comedy seamlessly.

Director Mike Newell (Four Weddings & A Funeral, 2012 Great Expectations) kept the tone pretty light despite some of the serious war-related scenes, he puts the focus more on the relationship between Juliet and the people she encounters. It sometimes feels like a rom-com, but with more at stakes given the time it’s set in. But it doesn’t quite escape the trappings of the genre in that the romance is completely predictable. Fortunately, there’s enough of a surprise surrounding the lives of the people involved and the poignant history they’ve been through that I’m still swept up and moved by it.

Visually and thematically, it feels something out of Jane Austen movies. It’s even more enchanting for me personally as the movie make some references Austen, as well as Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. The set pieces are gorgeous, there’s something so immensely charming about the small, coastal English town. It wasn’t filmed in Guernsey however, but instead the coastal exterior was shot in various UK locations such as Cornwall, Bristol, etc.  I also love the 40s period clothing that makes everyone so vintage chic.

This is definitely ‘comfort food’ for fans of period dramas like me, but fortunately a nutritious one. Interestingly, this was supposed to be a Kenneth Branagh production with Kate Winslet in the title. As much as I’m intrigued by that prospect, I have to say I like Lily James as Juliet and I appreciate Newell’s old-school, unabashedly-sweet approach. I would have liked to have seen more of [bespectacled, Clark-Kent like] Matthew Goode, but I enjoyed seeing every bit of him every time he’s on screen.

I’m glad this movie is on Netflix as I’d readily watch it again. As a writer, one of the biggest appeal for me is how the movie is practically a wonderful love letter to the written word.


Have you seen The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review – AHOCKALYPSE (2018)

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Directed By: Wayne Harry Johnson Jr.
Written By: Wayne Harry Johnson Jr., Craig Patrick (story by)
Runtime: 1 hour 19 minutes

Comedy isn’t an easy film genre to get right, and horror comedy is even more difficult. Striking a balance can be challenging, and there’s a fine line between poking fun at horror tropes and being mean-spirited about them. Fortunately, Ahockalypse manages to knock it out of the park…er, hit it out of the rink.
The film follows hockey teammates Jonesy (Jesse Rennicke), BJ (Squall Charlson), Wave (Alex Galick), their host mom, Mrs. Johnson (Gabrielle Arrowsmith), and a mysterious girl (Lindsey Kuehl) as they try to make their way to the safety of the hockey rink after the town is overrun by zombies. In addition to fighting the undead, the group must contend with a pair of idiotic bullies from the opposing team (Matthew Ford and Paulo Martins), a menacing strip club owner (Kelly Wendlandt), and Jonesy’s frighteningly controlling girlfriend, Jenny (Kaylee Williams).

I do have to start out by saying the production quality is pretty low. It’s not quite as obvious in the exterior shots, but most of the film quality is rough. The special effects aren’t awful-the zombie makeup is great-but there’s a bit of computer-animated blood splatter that looks a little cheesy. The sound mixing is an issue too; there are several moments where the score, as fun and wonderfully campy as it is, drowns out the dialogue. That said, this is an independent film with an independent film budget, and Ahockalypse proves that if a movie has strong enough acting and and entertaining enough writing, certain technical shortcomings can be overlooked.

Acting-wise, the entire cast is strong. The camraderie between the teammates and Mrs. Johnson feels genuine, and they all work off of each other really well. That said, there are a few stand-out performances. Lindsay Kuehl as Girl #3, the mysterious young woman who tags along with the group for most of the movie, barely has any lines, but she still manages to get a lot of laughs without being over-the-top. She revealed in a Q&A following the movie that she originally went to the casting call to be a background zombie and ended up landing a bigger role, and the movie is definitely better for it.

Alex Galick as Wave

Kaylee Williams as Jenny is fantastic, striking a perfect balance between irritating and menacing; she especially shines in the “engagement party” scene with Jonesy and her zombie father (Chris Charais). The scene stealer, though, is Alex Galick as Wave. His comedic timing is incredible, his line delivery is hilarious, and his facial expressions are priceless. While the whole cast is excellent, he easily made me laugh the hardest.

Writing-wise, the plot is as straightforward as the synopsis makes it sound-hockey players fight zombies-but you can tell the script is a labor of love for both horror fans and hockey fans. It both pokes fun at zombie movie tropes and embraces them, which can be hard to do in a horror comedy without coming across as lazy or hypocritical.

There are a ton of hockey references in the movie as well; I couldn’t tell you a single one, because I am the least sports-y person you will ever meet, but the filmmakers mentioned in the Q&A that there were a lot of hockey references throughout the film, and the fact that they managed to include so many without alienating the non-hockey fans in the audience is a credit to the writers.

Ahockalypse is definitely worth checking out. It’s a genuinely funny, enjoyable zombie flick.

The film is now available for purchase now on DVD or
on VOD through iTunes and Amazon.

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Have you seen ‘AHOCKALYPSE’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: MILE 22 (2018)

When an action film is released late in the summer season, it’s usually a lower budget fare that studios doesn’t want to spend too much money promoting it and the movie itself is not that good. This latest team up between BFFs Marky Mark Wahlberg and Peter Berg definitely falls into those categories.

James Silva (Wahlberg) is a leader of a special elite military force called Overwatch, think of this group as the ‘Impossible Mission Force’ but works with the military instead of intelligence agency. After completing a mission that didn’t go smoothly in the States, he and his team are now working in an unnamed Southeast Asian country trying to find missing deadly chemicals.

His second in command agent Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan) has an asset within the local government named Li Noor (Iko Uwais), who has a disc containing information on where to find the missing chemicals. Noor will unlock the disc when he’s out of the country and on his way to the States. With no time to waste, Silver and his team has no choice but to escort Noor to an airport and keep him alive from assassins working for the local government. With the help from Overwatch’s technical team and its leader Bishop (John Malkovich, wearing a ridiculous wig), Silver and his team must navigate through the city and avoid being killed.

There’s not much of a plot here, it’s a pretty simple story and I don’t think screenwriter Lea Carpenter really care to expand much beyond it’s simple storyline. Carpenter did include tons of F-bombs in the dialog and not much else. For a movie with not much of a plot, director Peter Berg decided to ramp up the violence and made sure this movie earns its R rating. Unfortunately, Berg didn’t get the memo that it’s 2018 and not 2008. The action scenes in this movie reminded me of last decade’s unwatchable fast editing, up-close shots and shaky cam style that ruined most of action films from the 2000s. By trying to make action scenes look exciting, Berg used several camera angles and most the frantic sequences were either incoherence or just plain ugly to watch. I think directors who’s going to direct an action film should watch the last couple of Mission: Impossible films and take notes on how to shoot action scenes correctly.

As for the performances, Wahlberg is basically playing the same type of roles just like his other flicks. His character in this movie supposed to have some sort of bi-polar condition so all he did in the movie was either yelling at people or being a smart ass. I like Lauren Cohan in The Walking Dead but here she seems to be out of her elements. They did try to give her character some background, but it just didn’t work for me. Iko Uwais didn’t have a lot of dialog, he was mostly used for the hand-to-hand combat scenes. Malkovich wasn’t on the screen that much but he does appear, I tried not to laugh because his haircut just looks ridiculous.

Mile 22 could’ve been a good action thriller if they had gotten a better crew to work on it. Berg tried to make a cool espionage picture, but he also tried to make it more realistic and the results was just silly. The movie also lacks any true villains and since we’re in the era of franchise building, this one ended with a cliffhanger and twist that I think most people will see it coming way before it ended. Apparently, it’s supposed to be a trilogy and I don’t think I’d care to see anymore adventures of the Overwatch team.

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So have you seen MILE 22? Well, what did you think?

Indie Filmmaker Spotlight: Michael Driscoll – Q&A on his short films ‘Two Black Coffees’, ‘To The Boats’ & more

Hello everyone!

Welcome to a new edition of FlixChatter Interview! Typically I’d do a spotlight on a certain film, whether it’s shorts or features, but today we have something special in that I’m showcasing an indie filmmaker and talk about his experience as a filmmaker, as well as highlight some of the projects he’s working on.

I’m thrilled to have LA-Based, British filmmaker Michael Driscoll to kicks off FlixChatter’s Indie Filmmaker Spotlight.

I’m such a big fan of the historical drama show BORGIA (the one by Canal+ which you can watch on Netflix). Watch its international title sequence below that Michael himself shot (beware, it’s NSFW given the rather graphic and provocative nature of the show):

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This year, Michael was chosen to be a part of the BAFTA Los Angeles Newcomers Program 2018/2019, a four-year new talent initiative, recognizing and supporting international professionals and students who have recently moved to L.A. to further their development and career. He’s one of the 15 directors to be a part of this prestigious program. You can read more about it in Variety, as well as Deadline.

I had the privilege to have an extensive chat with Michael both via email as well as Skype last week. We had been planning to do the interview for months but due to his globe-trotting schedule and me working on a new short film, I’m glad we’re finally able to do it. It was already 11PM in London when we did the Skype, yet Michael was still excited to talk about his work [sign of a passionate filmmaker!] and we ended up chatting well over an hour.

Given the length of this interview, it’ll be broken up into multiple sections. We start with the conversation about his involvement with working as the 2nd Unit Director of the BORGIA series, created by Tom Fontana (St. Elsewhere, Homicide Life On the Street, Oz, etc.).

Q. Firstly, I’d like to commend you on your tremendous work in BORGIA. It’s one of my fave shows ever, it’s bold, brutal, beautiful, and indelible. How did you end up being involved on that show? 

I was lucky to work on BORGIA. I had a girlfriend who was hired on the show during preproduction of season 1, so every weekend over a long summer I flew from London to Prague to see her. Naturally, I met several producers from Canal+. Before long they got to know me, and at some point I’d heard they’d seen my Gil Scott Heron documentary that I shot at RSA Films, and were impressed with it. They asked me to shoot a similar thing of Tom Fontana as promo material for BORGIA.

Before I knew it, I was on a flight from Prague to New York, meeting Tom at his office. The next stop was Paris to meet Canal+ and Atlantique productions. It was a bit of a whirlwind at first, I had no idea if I’d got a job on the show. Just before the start of shooting, I got a call saying I‘d been hired; I had to fly back to Prague immediately and get myself on the set. A baptism of fire, so to speak. Excuse the pun…

To end up as 2nd Unit director, it was a variety of reasons. Firstly, I loved the scripts, and working on the show. I was already a massive fan of Tom’s work; I watched OZ as a teenager when it was broadcast on Channel 4 on Friday nights in the UK… I was very keen to be involved in BORGIA and I think he knew that. I mean, I think my constant enthusiasm on set on a daily basis must’ve been quite irritating!

Aside from that, I was familiar with the content. Being a Fine Art graduate, I’d studied the early Renaissance, and knew about the Borgia family, including the other great houses of Italy of that time. I was already quite well versed in the subject matter and I remember being interested to see where production would take it, how far they would push it and so forth. Also, coming from a background in the Art Department, seeing the production design evolve, kept me so much in the loop and close to production. I think people knew I cared a lot about the show and wanted to contribute more.

I also think that by directing ZDF’s commercial campaign first, before doing any 2nd unit, I showed I could collaborate with the cast and crew, and handle the full strains of the responsibilities. It was intense, we were mostly handling everything separately from the BORGIA production, having to deal with the necessities that ZDF needed, yet still working around the main unit schedule. This was all with my own crew, which in a way was a kind of second unit in itself… with the success of that campaign I had confidence to do more.

During season 1, I was asked to shoot a scene with Dearbhla Walsh, a director I really looked up to. She wanted me to capture certain elements and angles for a stunt, which turned out well. When season 2 came along, I had a chat with Tom, he wanted to utilize me on a separate unit for several scenes in Italy, and it just kicked on from there. He trusted to put me on a larger role, as did Dearbhla, and other directors like Christoph Schrewe. In a way I was kind of shadowing them on set in the first place, I had become accustomed to their shooting styles and their way of working, so it felt only natural to kick on and use their advice for my 2nd Unit work, which was for their episodes as well. I definitely had my own approach to what I wanted to shoot, but I was very lucky to have the backing of Tom and the other directors. We were all so close from working together for so long, the trust was already there. We were like a huge family, working on the most amazing production in the most incredible locations, all eating together in fantastic restaurants and traveling across Europe… We were definitely spoiled.

TWO BLACK COFFEES

A desperate woman has one moment of chance to escape her domineering husband, and into the arms of her secret lover.

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Q. So the cast of Two Black Coffees are all from that show. How did they get involved in this short?

TWO BLACK COFFEES was my first short film. I was inspired on many levels. I was living in Prague, an stunning city, working on BORGIA with so many brilliant actors, and a great crew, I just wanted to capture what it was like for us all to be living and working over there in such a timeless and unique location.

Having access to this cast was a real treat. It started at Art Malik’s apartment, which was in the old town of Prague; he encouraged me to start writing a script. So every weekend, after shooting BORGIA in crazy cold weather locations, I went over to his place and he inspired me to jot down some ideas. Thinking of what BORGIA cast could work for distinctive roles in the film was basically easy because we were all good friends on and off the set.

Marta Gastini

The cast were all supportive and enthusiastic about making this film. Marta Gastini was the lead, and the prime focus of the story; so without her on board I wouldn’t have done it. She was really happy to be involved, and her approach to the character was amazing. All the cast said yes immediately. Mark Ryder was probably the trickiest to convince to do the film, only because his shooting schedule on BORGIA at that time was intense, and he was worried about fully committing to this project. We ended up shooting around his availability, which added a day to our schedule. As soon as he stepped on board, he really hit his stride and made the role his own.

Working with the cast prior was a major plus for this film. Obviously, it was my first short; I had a clear visual idea and quite an ambiguous approach to each of the characters, so I relied on them to add elements themselves. At first I thought this’d be difficult, but it was the opposite – all the cast refined their roles and worked on spins for each character. I think they were also intrigued to see what I was cooking up for my first short. Marta in particular put in a lot of time and energy into the film, she was amazing. It was a physically demanding role for her; we definitely put her through her paces!

Art Malik

I was lucky that they were all keen. In fact, when word on the BORGIA set got around that we were making this short – several other actors suddenly asked me to write them parts! I actually had to turn down quite a few big-name BORGIA cast!
As soon as we got permission to use the cast by Tom Fontana and Michael Schwarz from the BORGIA production, it literally was all systems go.

How was your experience with Stanley Weber? He’s quite well known to US audiences from his work in Outlander 2. Did you have him in mind to play the bad guy because of his role as Juan Borgia on the show?

Yeah, Stanley was great, it was a no-brainer to ask him to do it. I‘d helped him shooting several of his auditions on tape when we were in Prague, so we already had fun working together. We had yet to shoot a scene together On BORGIA, at that particular stage, so it was more exciting for me to get to collaborate with him solely for TWO BLACK COFFEES.

He actually wanted to play the bad guy! He had his heart set on that role from day one, and we discussed how to refine the character with his stoic looks, malevolent actions, things like that. He had a very clear idea on his costume, which looked great in post when we had refined the grade to monochrome. He created a stylish character with real spite and dark intentions. It was great.

Stanley Weber

He was also a good laugh on set. We actually shot his bathroom scene first before anything else, which was at Barrandov Studios in Prague, directly after Stanley had shot a long day of shooting on BORGIA. I had to wait until he’d wrapped, then his makeup and hair was changed for us, and then we finally shot the scene.

On Stanley’s main shoot day in the cafe, he had a lot of fun with the role and enjoyed working with Marta. A lot of the shots in his scenes were precise and technical due to the nature of the noir feel of things. But it was great! He’s also super happy with the final film.

Q. The setting in Prague is absolutely stunning. Did you already have the script ready before you find the location or did the location drive the story?

It was all about the timing. I wanted to take advantage of the beauty of the city by shooting there. It was perfect for a film noir. All the pieces were just nicely in place for a nice short production like TWO BLACK COFFEES.

The location drove elements of the aesthetic: Prague has such a unique look and feel to it, a beautifully low-hanging light as well which highlights the architecture. It’s also really easy to film there. I found that a lot of the crew there are masters of their craft. Costumiers, lighting technicians, grips – they have a wonderful working ethic there.

Shooting across the city wasn’t a problem at all; we had no interruptions, no interference, even with the well-known actors like John Doman and Art Malik on the set. In terms of the story, yes, Prague has that moody copacetic feel to it, so we adapted the location to the script, which kept evolving right up to the shoot.

Q. What made you decide to set it in Black & White with no dialog?

I’m a huge fan of film noir and black and white movies. I don’t think there are enough these days! Perhaps there was a concern that contemporary black and white films wouldn’t get a decent box office, but there’s been a change in the trend recently. I watched the monochrome versions of Logan: Noir and Mad Max: Fury Road in ‘Black and Chrome’ and thought they were amazing. I had several influences for this film. The Third Man, elegantly shot, full of surprises, copacetic and enigmatic, has a lingering sense of dread. Coppola’s Tetro was another key reference, in terms of its slick style and deeply troubled characters. The disjointed narrative in Martha Marcy May Marlene had the audience constantly guessing. Memento was great in it’s nonlinear storytelling. The aim was to apply and combine these elements to a femme fatale story.

In terms of zero dialog – again, the aesthetic of the city helped, it made me think, well why don’t we go FULL noir and try and make it even more nostalgic?? It also gave me more control on the set – without sound department, I could just concentrate on getting the shot composition and working directly with the actors.

Q. Your short deals with a woman trying to escape her domineering husband and meeting her secret lover, but given that your film is silent. What’s the biggest challenges in storytelling sans dialog? 

There are definitely several challenges shooting without dialogue. It was a good lesson in performance direction – I was dealing with such high-level acting talent, my first short, I wanted to make it right, y’know? I wanted to make sure I could get the best performances and work on delivery without dialogue. The actors appreciated that and I think it was a good exercise for them.

Michael on set with Marta Gastini

When you shoot without dialogue, you really have to make sure the story is tight. Another important aspect was to heighten the characters reactions in certain scenes. They are literally telling the story with their actions, expressions and movements, we knew where to be expositional and where to be ambiguous with their movement. And I think they loved that. It was good exercise for them.

To make things even more confusing, this film has a nonlinear timeline. So I storyboarded everything, to make it all clear to the cast what was happening in each scene. They got it pretty much straight away.

Tell me a bit about the music used in this film, which is so perfect and adds so much to the atmosphere.

Music is extremely important, especially on a production where there’s no dialogue. I had a specific style in mind of what I wanted for the score. The fact that the film isn’t told in a linear way, made it important to highlight in the music. For this film, I was looking for something quite close to 1930’s or 40’s French jazz, but something a little colder and more hollow.

Something like Hermann’s themes in Taxi Driver. These elements needed to merge with darker synths and droning, pulsing beats.

Some references I had in mind were Elliot Goldenthal’s Alien 3 soundtrack, The New Division, who had some excellent atmospheric and almost dream-like tracks with wind chimes and harps. This kind of stuff with a Trent Reznor-feel was what I was after. Popul Vuh was also a major influence, and something our composer Nick Donnelly immediately used as a key reference.

The results are really cool. Nick had created a fantastic score, with so much atmosphere and depth. It was brilliant working with him, he was actually recommended to me by Scott William Winters, one of the actors in BORGIA. Nick and I have continued to work on two more shorts together. As for sound design, we worked with Ivan Oberholster, who did a phenomenal job in bringing everything together.

 

TO THE BOATS

Q: Can you tell me a bit more about the premise about a post-Brexit civil war film? What inspired you to write that story?

Obviously, with Brexit looming on the horizon, this is a story about a worst-case scenario. In this world, it’s dystopian, it’s bleak, it’s basically our nightmares come true. A civil war! What was important when we were developing the film was that we wanted to show how divided the country would still be, even years after Brexit itself. We have characters in this story, that even in war, are extremely divided, which of course is an allegory for the current state of affairs in the UK right now. Also in this story, which I think is pretty ironic, is that immigrants are the forces who choose to rise up and fight against the British government, in an effort to take Britain back into the EU.

So we have characters that are forced into a war that they may or may not have even wanted, literally stuck in an almost apocalyptic-style country. On top of that, we wanted to show high levels of desperation in each of these characters. Another thing that was interesting to me was, if you’re at war, and faced directly with your enemy on an even level, in an isolated setting, what would you do? Would you have empathy? Would you help? We definitely wanted to address that in this short story.

The other thing that was quite inspiring was the location itself. The producers had scouted Lewes, on the south coast of England, and found some otherworldly shooting locations, which were so awesome. At the time we had a really cold Spring season, which made all these places look quite eerie on camera, it was a perfect setting.

Tell me about the casting process for this one, particularly about the lead actress Coco König?

I’m really proud of the casting for this project. It’s a small cast but worked out nicely. I’d always wanted to work on something with Danny Szam, who I met on BORGIA when he played the role of Michelangelo. In this film the role of Ben needed anxiety, paranoia and aggression, which Danny could definitely play around with in his performance. A chunk of the story is told through Ben’s perspective, who’s forced to hide his past actions. Danny was brilliant at harnessing these multilayered emotions on camera.

I met James Robinson a few years ago through Danny, and always wanted to work with him. I thought he could bring a balance of power and sensitivity to the role of Jonny. James is a fantastic actor to collaborate with, he really pushed the role and offered a broad and interesting insight into one of these torn characters.

For this project we were working with Louise Collins, a casting director I’d worked with on THE PERFECT ORCHID in California. Louise set up a casting for the role of Sam, and we saw so many different actresses. A lot of the auditions were great, but Coco König definitely stood out – she offered a completely different approach to the role, and a range that I was really impressed with, immediately she was my first choice. The character was originally written as a tough girl, almost Lara Croft type, but Coco gave us a totally contrasting portrayal that worked perfectly: a character who seems naïve, trusting and a little vulnerable at first, and then switches into something else entirely. It was precisely what we were looking for. Her performance had realistic conviction; in the script her character negotiates with two random men, so she needed to have a mixture of iron will and nervousness – and she performed this superbly. We were very happy with her work.

Coco König in TO THE BOATS

An initial idea was to not introduce the two guys to Coco before the shoot, and not do a cast rehearsal, to create a degree of separation, to see if we could get any raw animosity or heighten the element of surprise with these characters on the shoot. Louise disagreed and suggested we do a rehearsal beforehand, which was a way better idea! The cast rehearsal perfected the timing of the scenes. These characters have a lot of layers to them, and have to express that, along with the exposition of the storyline, yet obviously trying to keep some things as ambiguous as we could. The timing proved crucial because on the actual shoot day, of course due to schedule constraints we had only a certain amount of time to do their scenes together.

Some casting choices obviously don’t work out as well as you might have planned, especially in short film productions with intense quick turnovers, but for this film I couldn’t have been happier. I definitely want to work with these guys again; they’re my good friends now.


Q. What are some of your films and filmmakers influences? How do you stay inspired and motivated as an indie filmmakers?

To be honest, I try not to do the same thing twice: ideally I want all of my films to be completely different to one another. Danny Boyle is a great example of this. His films are wildly different; he is able to jump into completely contrasting genres, which I think is amazing and inspiring.

My style is constantly evolving. I started off as a visual director and now I feel I can contribute more substance to storytelling. I wouldn’t put myself in a particular bracket of style, but then it’s hard for me to judge. Obviously I’m currently focusing on several genres; mystery, thriller, noir… I’ve been told by my DPs that I have quite a classic, 1970s style approach to my camera setups, which is definitely a compliment! Most of my projects are high-tempo, high-intensity dramas with characters stuck in a scenario that gets worse, over their heads, causing them to fall into desperate measures. Maybe that’s the best way to describe my style at the moment.

I stay motivated because this is what I love doing! I can’t imagine doing anything else. I grew up in this industry, my dad and my granddad both worked in the Art Department, so it’s all I’ve wanted to do. I keep up with current trends and I’m always on the lookout for a cool story to turn into a film.

Q. What’s next for you? Are you working on another short film or tv series?

In terms of stuff that’s finished – I have another short called BE RIGHT BACK, which is a dark comedy about a really bad dad.

I’m currently working on several other projects; some are due for release in 2018. POD DAMNED, a short rom-com about a couple trying to get it on listening to podcasts, BREAK IN BREAK OUT, an 80’s themed, short horror/thriller, about a house burglary gone horribly wrong, shot in Toronto, a film I’m looking forward to finishing. It has over 150 VFX shots and a noticeable John Carpenter style to it. These two are very close to completion.

Danny Szam in TO THE BOATS

Aside from TO THE BOATS, I have one other film that I’m working on; a western called THE PERFECT ORCHID. It’s set 10 years in the future and is about the opioid issue in America. It’s shot on super16mm film on location in Joshua Tree, and also has Mark Ryder and Diarmuid Noyes back from BORGIA and TWO BLACK COFFEES. This one is going to have a really unique look to it.

In addition, we’re also in development with several projects that I’m writing and directing. Hopefully you’ll see one in a festival soon!

If you could choose only ONE of your short films to be made into a feature with a budget up to $30mil, which one would you choose to do?

That’s a good question. I think the easiest to turn into a feature would probably be the horror film BREAK IN BREAK OUT, it’s a short story that can easily be expanded, and would definitely be a very tense, suspenseful horror / thriller, which would be really cool…. But, if I had a budget of $30 million (which would be amazing), I’d probably say the best one to turn into a feature would be THE PERFECT ORCHID. It’s a western detective story with so many varied elements and complex characters; the plot would be ideal for a feature. Coupled with the fact that the storyline is about the opioid problem in America, and its set in the future, there’s so much more that could be explored in that project. I think it could be well served to expand into a full-length film; it would be really cool to see. Plus, it’d be awesome to put on the cowboy boots and shoot a western again!


HUGE THANKS to Michael Driscoll for the insightful & fun interview!


Hope you enjoyed this Indie Filmmaker Spotlight series…
there’s more to come!

FlixChatter Review: Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Ok so first, a confession. Even though my bestie had lent me her book of Kevin Kwan‘s Crazy Rich Asians over a month ago, telling me to read it before the movie opened, I didn’t get a chance to do so. I finally started reading it right after I got home from the advanced screening… and suffice to say I’ve become a bit obsessed with anything CRA. In the weeks following to its release, the buzz has been strong, and it keeps building up steadily. Naturally, being that I’m likely the only Southeast Asian film blogger here in town (as well as one of the few SE Asian filmmakers), I can’t help feeling giddy about this movie.

A bunch of reports surrounding this movie has pointed out that it’s been 25 years since Joy Luck Club was released that we have a big studio-backed Hollywood film based on a book by an Asian author, featuring a mostly East-Asian cast, and directed by an Asian director. It’s impossible to dispute the historical importance of this movie in terms of representation, which comes at the perfect time as there’s growing pressure in Hollywood to feature greater diversity on screen. For me personally, it feels incredible to see so many characters who look like me reflected on the big screen!

But setting all of that aside, every film still has to be judged on its merit. Yes, it’s an important film, but is it any good?

Well I’m happy to report that (borrowing from Ken Jeong‘s line in the movie) HELLS YEAH! It’s perhaps the best rom-coms I’ve seen in a good long while. It has the exact mix of romance AND comedy, wrapped in a lavish, colorful and vibrant concoction. It’s extravagant surely, over the top even, but the ‘go big or go home’ sensibility seems appropriate here. Can love actually conquers all? When the economic and social class is SO wide, would true love suffice?

The film’s protagonist is Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a NYU economics professor whose life is about to be turned upside down when her dreamy boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) takes her to Singapore to attend his bestie’s wedding. Somehow Nick’s been able to conceal the fact that his family is not just rich or filthy rich, but crazy rich. But thanks to an astute family acquaintance who eavesdropped when he was at a Manhattan, everyone in his social circle learn that Nick is coming home with his girlfriend in tow. I love the way director Jon M. Chu showcases the way the news goes viral on screen, which serves as a way to display local flavor in its expression, i.e. alamak which is an expression akin to OMG used by Malay and Singaporean people.

As someone who wasn’t born in the US but came here for college, I feel like I’m always in two worlds, never quite belonging anywhere. So Rachel’s fish-out-of-water story strikes a chord with me, and Wu deftly displays a sense of alienation in her performance. Soon she realizes who she’s dealing with. ‘I didn’t know you’re like the Prince William of Asia,’ she tells Nick, to which he quickly replies, ‘Oh don’t be ridiculous, I’m more of a Harry.’ The timing couldn’t be more perfect for this fairy tale, given we just saw Prince Harry married ‘commoner’ Meghan Markle just this past Spring. In many ways, CRA follows the familiar tropes of a rom-com, yet Chu and writers Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim manages to transcend the genre with astute social class commentary. It’s Cinderella meets Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, but yet maintain its own uniqueness in terms of voice and style.

Wu and Golding has a sweet, charming chemistry together that makes you root for them to be together. It’s a crucial ingredient in any rom-com which this movie gets right. As the breakout star of Fresh Off The Boat, Wu seems like the natural choice, but casting Golding, an unknown talent who’s never acted before in a film, is a brave move that pays off amazingly. The British-Malaysian former travel presenter is easy on the eyes with a killer smile, even killer voice, and has that Classic Hollywood look about him. I call him the Asian Gregory Peck. I’m curious to see him in other roles in the future, certainly a fresh new leading man we could use more of in Hollywood.

The movie also benefits from a plethora of memorable supporting characters. Michelle Yeoh is perfectly icy as Nick’s strictly-principled and dutiful mother. Her resentment towards Rachel is more than just cattiness, and even when she’s at her most severe, I can’t help but sympathize with her. I have to say I can’t get enough of Awkwafina as Rachel’s hysterical bestie Peik Lin. I feel like she barely had any screen time as the token Asian character in Ocean’s 8, so I’m glad to see her show her comedic chops to perfection here. She and the notoriously farcical Ken Jeong as Peik Lin’s dad provide some of the funniest bits in the movie. The makeover scene with Nick’s ‘rainbow sheep of the family’ cousin Oliver (Nico Santos) is a hoot! All the ladies playing Nick’s relatives also provide a ton of comic relief. I do have to mention Lisa Lu as Ah Ma, Nick’s powerful grandma, who often reminds me of my own.

I absolutely adore the luminous Gemma Chan as Nick’s fave cousin/confidante Astrid. In houte couture, the jet-setting heiress is the epitome of elegance, grace and sophistication. Her crumbling marriage to her handsome-but-not-so-rich husband (Pierre Png) sends a not-so-subtle message that nobody’s life is perfect and even the ultra rich have problems like the rest of us. Chan’s performance is tinged with the right amount of poignancy and melancholy.

This movie lives up to its title in more ways than one. Obviously the set pieces, costumes, cars, palatial houses, etc. potently gives us a glimpse of how the crazy rich live. Then there’s the obnoxiously-crazy behaviors of Nick’s relatives, especially the imbecile frat-boys led by Bernard (Jimmy O. Yang). Nick practically has to escape the outrageous, hedonistic bachelor party with his groom-to-be BFF Colin (Chris Pang) which leads to a rare quiet moment in the movie.

The sheer absurdity of the crazy rich lifestyle is not lost on the filmmakers, as they unabashedly poke fun at them with zippy one-liners. There’s even a hilarious line poking fun of Donald Trump’s bathroom. The movie does an amazing job in showing the class structures within the rich society, something that Rachel isn’t at all familiar with. It’s as if we, the general audience, is living vicariously through her as she’s trying to navigate her way in this ultra-exclusive club.

What I admire most about this movie is that, amidst the world of high fashion and dizzying parties, the richly-drawn characters remain front and center. Despite the razzle-dazzle glamor, it never feels like the movie is style-over-substance because we’re always reminded of what’s at stake. The filmmakers did a good job to make me feel invested in Rachel & Nick’s story, as well as in their respective families’. The mahjong scene towards the end is an emotional one that packs so much cultural & personal significance, down to that one quick glance between the two mothers. I appreciate that Kwan’s book and the movie portray various multi-dimensional, complex women with formidable inner strength. It’s one of the rare rom-coms that is not about the girl chasing the boy, but a girl finding her self worth.

But you can’t review this movie without mentioning the amazing visuals. It’s really a treat for the senses. The cinematography by Vanja Cernjul is breathtakingly beautiful. I haven’t been in Singapore in years and it looks like a fantasy land in this movie. The music by Brian Tyler is fun, energetic but also romantic. In fact, I was enjoying the soundtrack on youtube as I was writing my review. I love Kina Grannis‘s gorgeous cover of Can’t Help Falling in Love during the wedding scene.

I don’t usually say much about box office numbers in my review. But I am SO rooting for this film to do well. Obviously, all the studio execs see is green, so there’s a lot at stake in terms of its box office performance whether they’d think it’s viable business to have make Hollywood movies with predominantly Asian cast like this one. I honestly believe the success of this movie would have a big impact in diversity and inclusion in storytelling, not just for Asians but for every content creator, talents and moviegoers of color.

On top of its historical significance, Crazy Rich Asians is a great movie, period. I laughed, I cried, sometimes both at the same time. Thanks Jon M. Chu and the phenomenal cast, it’s such a joyful experience that’s both funny AND romantic. I sure hope there’ll be a trilogy just like the books!


Have you seen Crazy Rich Asians yet? I’d love to hear what you think!
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