Can’t believe it’s just a little over a month away until the fun film festivities begins here in the Twin Cities! If you follow me on Facebook, then you’d already know that this year’s film fest is an extra special for yours truly… yep, I’m still in a daze that Hearts Want is actually premiering at TCFF in October!! If you told me around the same time last year that I would have my own film playing at TCFF in 2017 I’d say that you are nuts. Our film will be playing in one of several short blocks at the fest, I will update this post as soon as I know the exact schedule.
Well, if you haven’t seen the teaser yet, well here you go…
… This year’s fundraising gala’s theme is A Year of Spectacular Women… which is as timely as ever and it’s also a play on this year’s Opening Night film, A Year of Spectacular Men, a directorial debut of Minnesota native Lea Thompson and stars her daughters Zoey Deutch and Madelyn Deutch. The upcoming drama-comedy will make its world premiere at TCFF on Oct. 18 with both Lea Thompson and Zoey Deutch in attendance.
We don’t have a trailer yet but here’s a clip from the film:
The official 2017 Centerpiece film will be the inspirational documentary Purple Dreams, which follows lives of inner-city, at-risk students who succeed at their passion while embracing the transformative power of their arts education. The true-life adventure screens Oct. 23.
TCFF will continue its tradition of honoring a Social Cause this year by putting a spotlight on ‘Addiction.’ To highlight addiction TCFF will screen three documentaries (Chasing the Dragon, Addicted to Porn and Screenagers) and a drama called Tatertot and Patton which showcases alcohol addiction.
Some of Fall’s most-anticipated films are also amongst the lineup…
Acclaimed director Sean Baker’s The Florida Projectstarring Willem Dafoe:
Dramedy Last Flag Flyingstarring Bryan Cranston, Steve Carrell and Laurence Fishburne:
WWII drama The Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman as Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
It’s a year of debuts it seems. Motion capture virtuoso Andy Serkis’ directorial debut Breathe, starring Andrew Garfield as a young man struck down with polio looks like a heart-warming tearjerker.
Those are just the studio films. There are plenty of indie features to be excited about…
The Bachelors stars J.K. Simmons dealing with an early death of his wife with his teenage son.
A grizzled, rugged looking Matt Bomer stars in Walking Out, where he plays an estranged father who faces a brutal encounter in the heart of Montana wilderness with his teenage son.
Little Pink House stars Catherine Keener and Jeanne Tripplehorn about a working-class neighborhood struggling to save their homes from political and corporate interests bent on seizing the land and handing it over to Pfizer Corporation.
I gotta give a shout out to Minnesota-made indie feature Twin Cities, produced by the filmmaker who directed my short film, Jason P. Schumacher. Hearts Want‘s lead actor Peter Christian Hansen also has a supporting role in the film. Directed by David Ash, its prequel 2021 actually premiered at TCFF in 2015.
The festival will close with writer and director Colette Burson’s Permanent, a film centering on a story of a hairstyle gone incredibly wrong and a young girl’s fight to fit in while encountering bullies at a new school. Burson will be in attendance for the red carpet and hosting a Q&A following the film.
Tickets will open up to members and pass holders on September 29th, with general public access the following week. To find out how to become a TCFF Member and for a full list of films playing at this year’s festival please visit TCFF official site »
Hope to see you at TCFF next month! Which of these films are you most looking forward to?
Directed By: Andy Muschietti Written By: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman (screenplay) Runtime: 2 hr 15 minutes
Fair warning: this review won’t compare the new film adaptation of Stephen King’s It to the 1990 minieries or to the novel itself. Regarding the former, it’s not really fair to compare a miniseries, which is pretty limited on what it can show on TV, to a big-budget, theatrically released feature film. As for the latter, I’ve only read about a quarter of the novel because that thing is a behemoth and I didn’t have enough time to finish it in time for the screening, so I don’t feel qualified to discuss the movie as an adaptation. While I might mention them once or twice, my main focus will be discussing the film, on its own, as a horror movie-and it’s a great one.
It follows a group of misfit kids in 1989- Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff)- as they try to uncover why children always go missing every 27 years in their small town of Derry, Maine. All seven friends are terrorized by “It,” the force of evil behind the disappearances and deaths, that most often takes the sinister form of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), and the group fights for their lives not to become It’s next victims.
The acting in this movie is phenomenal, especially from such young actors, all of whom have excellent chemistry. Stranger Things’ star Finn Wolfhard as Richie and Jack Dylan Glazer as Eddie stand out with their comedic delivery, and Jaeden Lieberher as Bill and Sophia Lillis as Beverly give some truly heartbreaking performances. Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise makes the character his own, and his performance is truly unsettling, from the way he moves to his creepy voice.
As far as scares go, It does not leave horror fans wanting. Pennywise alone is, of course, frightening, mainly because many of his scenes involve either him in the shadows or brief, startling glimpses of him. It’s other manifestations as each kid’s individual fears are terrifying as well, and their reveals are incredibly well-done; some of them are slow, dark, and suspenseful, while some of them pop right out of nowhere in broad daylight, and I love the variety and unpredictability.
All that said, there were a couple problems I had with this movie. While Pennywise is scary in most of his scenes, there are a few that I think they meant to be creepy or unsettling but come across more as comical- not nearly as much as Tim Curry in the library scene of the 1990 version, but enough to distract from the overall tone of the movie. Bill Skarsgard has said how much he loved Curry’s performance, and maybe he was trying to draw inspiration from it, but if that’s the case, I’m not sure it was a good idea.
I’m also disappointed in how little they focused on the character of Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs). For a movie that is mostly well-paced and makes an obvious effort to develop the other characters, Mike’s backstory feels tacked on; he just talks about it for maybe a minute a little after he meets the other kids. A lot of the climax of the movie takes place in the house where he was trapped during a fire that killed both of his parents, but besides his brief account of it a couple scenes earlier, he never addresses it when they’re actually at the house, which seems like a huge missed opportunity. Considering Mike is the only kid who remains in Derry into adulthood (sorry about the spoiler, but come on, the book has been out for over thirty years now), you’d think they’d spend a little more time fleshing out his backstory.
Overall, though, It is easily the best horror movie I’ve seen in the past few years. I want to watch it multiple times, just because so many of the scenes are so detailed that I feel like I’d notice new things during each viewing. I’m so happy they’re splitting it into two movies, and the second one can’t get here soon enough.
It’s been ages since Steven Soderbergh, though I gotta admit I wasn’t too impressed with his last film Side Effects. But still, glad he didn’t end up retiring after all, and he returns to do a heist action comedy, as Soderbergh himself described, Logan Lucky is an anti-glam version of an Ocean movie (per EW) and it’s definitely much smarter than it looks.
Channing Tatum and Adam Driver play brothers Jimmy & Clyde who attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race in Charlotte, North Carolina. It did give me a pause for a moment considering what just happened in that town. In any case, they ended up enlisting an explosive expert aptly named Joe Bang (a hilarious Daniel Craig) to help with the plan. The film’s pacing could’ve been a bit more dynamic but fortunately it’s got enough going for it to keep my attention thanks to the actors’ performance. Watching these actors attempt Southern accent was a hoot, Craig was the most surprising as he’s a Brit but I thought Adam Driver’s accent was spot on and made me giggle every time.
The film offers plenty of laughs. There’s a pretty amusing cameo by Seth MacFarlane doing a spot on Cockney accent. But the funniest moments are during the heist itself, and I do think Craig has a career in comedy once his Bond stints are done. The heist faced some challenges along the way, but there’s a clever twist at the end that made you go ha!
I think the strength of the film is the likable characters. Unlike the handsome, well-dressed smarty-pants like the Oceans’ movies, the Logans and the Bangs siblings are simple folks. They’re essentially nice guys who have been dealt a bad hand at life. Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson (yet another talented Irish actor from the Gleeson family!) as Joe Bang’s two brothers are pretty funny as well. Riley Keough (yep, Elvis’ granddaughter) is pretty decent as the sister of the Logan brothers, and cameos by Katie Holmes as Jimmy’s ex wife and Hilary Swank as a Federal Agent. There’s also a sweet father/daughter relationship between Jimmy and his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie).
I just learned about Soderbergh’s unorthodox distribution deals for this film (made on a relatively low budget of $29 mil). Heh, that’s too bad Logan Lucky didn’t do well as I’d like more filmmakers getting creative control for their work. I hope more people would go and support this movie whilst it’s still in theatres. It’s a zany yet shrewd script by first time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt, who I hope would continue to get more work (that is if that isn’t just a pseudonym). It’s a pretty fun movie that never took itself too seriously, and I find it refreshing that it’s not mean-spirited nor foul-mouthed like so many comedies these days.
Did you see LOGAN LUCKY? Well, what did you think?
It’s always fun being able to wear my film journalist hat once in a while. So whenever there’s an opportunity to chat with a filmmaker, whether locally or from other parts of the world, I always jump at the chance. This time, we’ve got something special because I get to do the interview on a different format… on video! Thanks to Minnesota-based filmmaker C.J. Renner and producer Sasha Rayl, as well as four of GUNN cast members for taking the time to chat with me last Friday afternoon.
I always love a good noir. GUNN is a gangster crime drama unlike anything I’ve ever seen. From the way the story is written to the deliberate surrealistic production style, it’s so refreshing to see a classic story done in an unconventional way.
All Elston Gunn ever needed to survive was a little luck and his Tommy gun. But when he discovers his whole world is just a staged play, he must dodge not only cops but stagehands… he must save not only his crumbling empire, but his last hold on reality.
There’s a lot to like about GUNN. The film is quite stylish with great camera angles and lighting for maximum effect. Despite the limited indie budget, Renner and his team are very creative and resourceful in constructing the minimalistic sets to support the narrative. Right from the fantastic Mondrian style opening credits, this is a cool, stylish film. I like the deliberate dreamy/surreal quality which fits the themes and storyline well, and he’s got a terrific ensemble cast to bring his story to life.
Andrew Stecker portrays the inner conflict of Elston nicely. The fact that he doesn’t look like a typical gangster works in the story’s favor, and I like the vulnerability he brings to the role. Amanda Day and Anna Stranz are two wonderful talents I’ve seen in previous films before, glad to see each have a decent character arc in the film. Richard Keats as the mob boss and Noah Gillett as Elston’s closest crony, as well as Peter Christian Hansen and Tyson Lietz as the two cops hot on the gangsters’ tail, are all terrific in their roles.
Some films that are shot mostly on set sometimes felt constricting, but that’s not the case here. Once you accept the surrealistic nature, the film flows quite nicely. The creative use of lighting and camera work create some striking imagery on screen. Because of the minimalist set, the costumes play a huge part in conveying the Prohibition era and boy, do the cast look fabulous in 1930s outfits. I love the satin dresses, fur accessories on the women… and the guys look oh-so-dapper in vests, suspenders and Fedoras.
I can’t write this review without mentioning the wonderful music by Travis Anderson, one of the biggest strengths of the film. The jazzy score and some of the songs performed in the film are not only catchy, but they add so much to the mood and atmosphere.
The pacing could be a bit more dynamic, some of the heavy-dialog scenes, as the scene between Keats and Stecker in the middle of the film felt a little too long. But really it’s a small quibble in an otherwise a smart, enjoyable debut film. Kudos to C.J. for coming up with such a cool story, but also in executing it in such a clever way.
I hope GUNN will get some kind of theatrical release or VOD distribution soon! Check out some of the clips from the film embedded in the two videos below… enjoy!
Interview video with writer/director C.J. Renner:
In my 7+ years covering Minnesota films and filmmakers as a blogger, I’m even more impressed by the local talents we’ve got in this town. C.J. is definitely a filmmaker to watch and I truly hope he continues to write and make more films in the future!
Interview video with cast members Andrew Stecker, Noah Gillett, Anna Stranz and Peter Christian Hansen:
It was so fun interviewing the cast! It was so great meeting Andrew for the first time just before the interview. Peter & Noah are both in my short film Hearts Want, so it was lovely seeing them again. I had met Anna last year at Twin Cities Film Fest and was impressed by her performance in Miles Between Us, surely she’ll have a fruitful acting career ahead of her.
I’m really grateful to everyone for taking the time out of their busy schedule to do this on a Friday afternoon. In fact, Peter had just got done filming another MN indie film shortly before the interview!
Thanks so much C.J. Renner and the GUNN crew
for the delightful interview!
I had no idea what I was getting into when I volunteered to review Leap! for this blog. I just saw that the screening was on a morning I had free, so I said I could go, then looked it up and realized it was a cartoon movie about ballet, which made me a little nervous. I’d never reviewed a kids’ movie before, and I didn’t want to be too hard on it, but I also didn’t want to let certain things slide just because the film is aimed at a younger audience. Fortunately, this movie gave me plenty to work with to strike a happy medium.
Leap! follows French orphan Felicie (Elle Fanning) who runs away from her dreary orphanage to Paris with her best friend Victor (Dane DeHaan) to pursue an education in ballet at the Grand Opera house. She steals the identity of a rich, spoiled girl named Camille (Maddie Ziegler) to secure a place in a ballet class, where she auditions for the coveted role of Clara in The Nutcracker and is trained by the once-great ballerina turned house cleaner Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), who teaches her to hone her enthusiasm into skill, and helps her understand where her passion for dance comes from.
Overall, this is a nice, original story, if a bit cliche. However, there are several bits of dialogue that feel awkard and unnecessary, but because the film was originally written and released in French, it could be a translation issue, or they needed filler for the animation when the English dubbing didn’t quite match the French in length. Most of the characters are well-written, although Victor’s subplot of being in love with and being “friendzoned” by Felicie throughout the movie made me roll my eyes regularly. This is a kids’ movie; why does there need to be a romantic subplot between two characters who have barely entered puberty? Maybe it’s too much to expect a movie with a boy and girl being friends with no romantic inclination.
Most of the acting is well-done. Elle Fanning and Dane DeHaan hold their own in the leads, and it’s a lot of fun hearing Kate McKinnon in a villainous role rather than a comedic one; she has such a rich, expressive voice that works perfectly for Regine, the cruel, controlling mother of Camille. Carly Rae Jepsen as Odette and Maddie Ziegler as Camille are both a little wooden in their performances, considering neither of them have much acting experience (voice or otherwise), but they’re not awful. Some of my favorite performances actually come from minor characters: Luteau (Mel Brooks), the head of the orphanage; and Nora (Shoshana Sperling), a friendly, quirky ballet student in Felicie’s class. They only have a handful of lines, but they made me laugh the hardest.
Of course, I can’t talk about an animated movie without talking about the animation itself, which is mostly beautiful. There are tons of gorgeous wide shots of the scenery, lots of fun action scenes, and incredibly realistic detail, especially in the clothing and hair. My one critique has to do with the characters’ faces, which are the most cartoon-y part of the animation. While that’s not a bad thing- it gives the film a unique look, and I prefer the cartoon-y faces over the horrifying, uncanny valley style you see in movies like The Polar Express-it does look plastic-y and doesn’t allow for much facial expression, which is a pretty big problem.
Lastly, I have to compliment the soundtrack, which is so fun and upbeat. I was a little hesitant about having so many modern artists in a movie about 19th century France, but all of the songs they use are very fitting of the tone, and the one used in the finale (Cut to the Feeling by Carly Rae Jepsen) is so enjoyable that I’m willing to forget Call Me Maybe ever existed.
While this movie has some obvious flaws, it’s one of the most enjoyable non-Disney animated films I’ve seen in a long time. If you have kids, it’s definitely worth seeing.
Happy Eclipse Day folks! Did you get outside and view it? It’s only partial eclipse where I live, but still pretty cool. Well, at least there’s something fun to do on a Monday. Well, as Summer season is almost coming to a close, I have to say it has been kind of a ho-hum Summer at the movies. There’s nothing that truly wowed me… even Chris Nolan’s Dunkirk which I was impressed with, didn’t really linger in my memory that much after all.
Well, this past week was unusual because I actually saw two new releases that were pretty similar, as in both are action comedies targeted to a similar audience. Well, here’s my quick thoughts on one of them…
I gotta say that in when the trailer of this came on w/ the famous Whitney Houston’s song spoofing The Bodyguard movie, I knew I had to see this. I knew it’ll probably be silly but I also couldn’t resist the pairing of Samuel L. Jackson (Kincaid) with post-DeadpoolRyan Reynolds (Bryce). So Reynolds plays the world’s top bodyguard who reluctantly takes a new client, a hit man (Jackson) who must testify at the International Court of Justice. So in the spirit of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and other countless road comedies genre, they must put their differences aside and work together to make it to their destination on time.
Despite the rather simple and yes, unoriginal premise, the movie did make me laugh… a lot. I always prefer Reynolds in comedies anyway and he’s pretty hilarious here against the more gregarious Jackson as they constantly hurl insults at each other. The pair have a good chemistry together and look like they had a blast making this. It’s not exactly a fresh buddy cop flick, but it’s got enough humor and fun action scenes for an entertaining escape at the movies. Salma Hayek though, is quite the scene-stealer as Jackson’s sexy-but-deadly wife Sonia.
The journey from London to Hague is marred with shenanigans as a bunch of cops and bad guys are hot on their trail. I thought director Patrick Hughes is pretty decent in filming the action scenes and car chases all over Europe. I especially enjoyed the Amsterdam car/boat/motorcycle chase that’s slightly reminiscent of a Bond/Bourne flick. Sadly, veteran actors in supporting roles (such as Gary Oldman and Richard E. Grant) are always criminally wasted in a film like this. Boy, Oldman’s been cashing out a lot lately, eh?
Given the R-rating, this film is quite violent and foul mouthed. There’s practically F-bombs in every dialog, which is excessive in my book. The plot is familiar but not completely silly. There is an amusing twist as to what happened to Bryce’s high-flying client, as well some philosophical themes to ponder, as Kincaid asked Bryce who’s more evil “…he who kills evil motherf******, or he who protects them?” Obviously each think one is more righteous than the other. I’d say this movie is still pretty fun to watch despite the usual clichés and inherent silliness, but not exactly one to rush to the theater to see.
Have you seen Hitman’s Bodyguard? Well, what did you think?
It’s been ages since I’ve got time to write a review, but I knew I had to write one for this after I saw it last weekend.
I’ve mentioned PILGRIMAGE all the way back in January 2016. It’s been a long time coming but I’m glad I got to see it on the big screen (though it’s a shame it’s only playing in a single theatre in Twin Cities suburbs with odd screen times!)
In 13th century Ireland, a group of monks must escort a sacred relic across an Irish landscape fraught with peril.
The premise is simple, but it’s packs a punch in terms of its thought-provoking story and the unrelenting violence these monks face along the journey. It opens with a horrific stoning of Saint Matthias, the apostle chosen to replace Judas Iscariot following his betrayal. The barren landscape of Ireland, an island on the edge of the world is striking… there’s otherworldly feel to this raw, beautifully-shot film that immediately grabs your attention.
I saw this film mainly for the French actor Stanley Weber who plays a Cistercian priest, Brother Geraldus, and boy did he make quite an entrance. He came to the monastery and soon the monks are on a pilgrimage to escort a holy relic all the way to Rome. Naturally there’s tension mounting between the monks themselves, each have their own views of the significance of this relic.
Pilgrimage explores the themes of what faith means to people. It’s not a deep study of the subject, but it certainly makes a compelling case about religious fanaticism and that radical ‘faith’ can ultimately lead to radical consequences. The film is more of an ensemble cast comprised of four main characters, Tom Holland as Brother Diarmuid (the novice), Stanley Weber as the Cisterian, Jon Bernthal (the mute with a violent past) and Richard Armitage (Norman knight Raymond). I’d say Bernthal is perhaps the most fascinating of the four, simply because of his charismatic, wordless performance that makes you wonder throughout just exactly who this man is. He’s loyal to a fault to the monks but you know he’s a ruthless and dangerous man. It’s a physical role but that demands a quiet menace which Bernthal pulls off with aplomb.
Acting-wise, Holland, Bernthal and Weber are the most memorable to me. Armitage is good but I feel like he’s basically reprising his role as Guy of Gisborne in BBC Robin Hood, though his French is rather impressive. Interesting that Holland and Bernthal are now part of the lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe (as Spiderman and Punisher respectively), but they’re both such talented actors that I hope they’ll continue to seek out smaller work such as this one that stretch their acting ability. Weber might not be a household name yet despite being cast in season 2 of Outlander, but he’s certainly got the charisma and acting chops of a leading man.
The film is quite violent, especially the attack in the woods that left practically everyone slashed, chopped and bludgeoned to death. There’s also a torture scene involving a Medieval torture device that sure made me wince. The action didn’t let up until the very end, set in a desolate beach that really takes your breath away. It’s so refreshing to see something unique that doesn’t fit the Hollywood mold. This is one of those rare films that’s not based on any literary works but is an original script by Jamie Hannigan. I love that director Brendan Muldowney also uses many languages in the film, Gaelic, French, Latin, English. I also appreciate that the film is shot on location, you can practically feel the misty air and cold breeze as you’re watching the film, which adds to the intense, gritty and bloody realism of the film.
If this is playing near you, I urge you to see it on the big screen. We need to support original films like this one as it’s becoming even more of a rarity. Made with a shoestring budget yet generates a big impact, I certainly don’t mind seeing this again on Bluray. I so agree with Keith’s review that big budgets aren’t essential to good moviemaking… and this film is definitely a testament of that.
Have you seen ‘PILGRIMAGE’? Well, what did you think?
Directed By: David F. Sandberg Written By: Gary Dauberman Runtime: 1 hr 49 minutes
I’ve never understood why people find dolls in horror movies scary. They can’t bend their limbs, they’re usually made of porcelain or plastic or something else not very durable, and they’re usually not any taller than your knee. You can just drop-kick the thing away from you. As someone who is thoroughly unimpressed by possessed dolls and hasn’t seen any of the other Conjuring series movies (I KNOW, I’m a bad horror fan; I promise they’re on my list), I didn’t expect this movie to be that scary. I was wrong.
In Annabelle: Creation, a group of orphans (Lulu Wilson as Linda, Talitha Bateman as Janice, Grace Fulton as Carol, Philippa Coulthard as Nancy, Lou Lou Safran as Tierney, and Tayler Buck as Kate) and the nun in charge of them, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) move into the house of Esther and Samuel Mullins (Miranda Otto and Anthony LaPaglia), who have opened their home to the girls after losing their own young daughter, Bee (Samara Lee), twelve years earlier. After Janice finds a mysterious doll hidden away in Bee’s old bedroom one night, things quickly take a turn for the horrifying.
What makes the Annabelle doll work in this movie is that it’s not overused to the point of being silly. It’s prominent, obviously, but it’s mostly shown in shadowy angles and blurry shots that make its presence even scarier. As Father Massey (Mark Bramhall) explains, the doll is a conduit- a tool for the demon to use to gain footing in the world of the living. As creepy a the doll is, the demon itself is even more frightening. The special effects in this movie are excellent. The few glimpses we get of the demon’s true form-specifically, the way it morphs and moves-are truly unsettling, and there’s one moment we see it in Bee’s old bedroom that left me really shaken. All of this, combined with superb pacing, keeps the suspense high throughout the whole movie.
That said, this movie isn’t flawless. Much of the dialogue between best friends Linda and Janice is so unrealistically cheesy it would make Little Orphan Annie cringe. It’s not the actresses’ faults-we already know Lulu Wilson has serious horror acting chops after last year’s Ouija: Origin of Evil, and all of her and Talitha Bateman’s non-verbal acting is great. It’s either a writing problem or a directing problem. On the subject of writing, Mrs. Mullin’s explanation for the supernatural ocurrences toward the end of the film is both heavy-handed and vague; if there had been a little more foreshadowing earlier in the movie, I might have been able to accept it more easily, but for a movie whose title implies we would be learning where the evil entity tied to the Annabelle doll comes from, it could have been more fleshed-out.
Overall, though, this is a fantastic, genuinely scary horror movie. I would definitely watch it again, and now I want to marathon the other movies in the series as soon as possible. If you like horror, you should absolutely check this out.
Have you seen ‘Anabelle: Creation’? Well, what did you think?
When I first heard about Let Me Go about a year ago, I was immediately intrigued. Not just in terms of its story, but I’ve always been a champion of #womeninfilm and this one has a female writer/director AND a terrific female ensemble cast! I really wanted to see the film at Bentonville Film Festival last Spring, but I had just wrapped my first short film Hearts Want so I timing was an issue. But thanks to Evolutionary Films for sending me the screener link that I was able to see it last month.
The film is based on a true story, and though films about the holocaust are a dime a dozen, writer/director Polly Steele told the story from an unconventional perspective. It’s a unique and compelling approach on a real life story from the past that’s still relevant today. I love the talented female cast who effectively portrayed three generation of daughters being affected by a horrific past. It’s a thought-provoking, heartbreaking yet beautiful film that I wish I could see on the big screen. If you get a chance to see this, don’t miss it. Not only is it an absorbing tale, it’s also a visually striking film with an equally gorgeous score.
Let Me Go is a film about mothers and daughters, it is about ghosts from the past and the impact they leave on the present. Developed from Helga Schneider’s true life story, it explores the effect on Helga’s life of being abandoned by her mother, Traudi in 1941 when she was just four years old. The film is set in the year 2000 following not only Helga and Traudi’s journeys but the next two generations and how Beth, Helga’s daughter and Emily her granddaughter are confronted with the long-term effects of Traudi’s leaving.
Read my interview with Polly Steele on her journey into bringing Helga Schneider’s story to life on screen…
Q: There are so many films about the holocaust done already but your film tells a story from such a different perspective, that is from the family of the perpetrators, instead of the victims. Can you tell me what inspired you to write this story?
When I first found this story I had no idea what attracted me to it. Looking back it was probably the vulnerable face of a small child in the black and white photo on the back cover. This vulnerability echoed inside me somewhere and I read the book. I know that trauma arises from all sides in a conflict and Helga’s trauma is no less valid than anyone else’s. Helga’s story was a difficult story to tell after the war had ended, there was no space for stories like hers. Now that 75 years has past since the war, I think we can acknowledge that innocent children from all sides of a conflict suffer. We cannot move on from our own suffering unless we acknowledge the suffering of others.
Q: How did you first hear about Helga Schneider? Can you tell us the process of getting the rights to tell her story and how long it took you to write the script?
After reading the book, I flew to Milan to meet her, she only spoke Italian and a little French and I spoke English and French and so we used her agent to translate and we sussed each other out with a lot of looking into each others eyes. I think we came to an understanding that day and I felt that she entrusted me with her life story, I am very grateful to her.
After seven years of writing and re-writing the script, working with various different companies and even putting it aside for a while, somehow the right team came together, the energy changed and here we are having raised the money in a year and made the film the following year, but the whole process was 10 years in the making.
Q: How involved was Helga herself in making this film? I believe you flew to Italy to meet with her?
After meeting her the first time, we kept in touch, I would write to her asking her questions and she would write back . I would google translate and on it went. After a couple of drafts of being completely true to her story I made a leap to include the two youngest characters who are fictitious, because I was fascinated with inherited trauma. I made these creative decisions with Helga’s blessing. The two new characters are based on information given to us by Helga who wanted to protect the real identity of her close family members. She understands now that her story has continued to affect those who came after her and that is what the film focuses on. Ironically when I met her again just before we started filming she told me that the two new characters were very accurate relative to her own experience.
Q: I love the idea of a multi-generation of daughters being affected and dealing with a shared past. Would you share about the casting process for Juliet Stevenson, Lucy Boynton and Jodhi May, as well as Stanley Weber as the only prominent male character in the film?
Juliet came on board very early on. She read the script and then we met and she followed the films progress always remaining committed. She was our rock. Jodhi also met me early on in the process and committed whole heartedly, she was fascinated by the subject of inherited trauma and also stayed with us until we were green lit. Lucy I saw on a taped video that she did in L.A and immediately thought she had a special something, elegance, an innocent maturity if that is possible and a very natural look on the screen. Lucy could only confirm very close to shooting but thats because she was up for another film at the same time but luckily we got her! Karin was the last to join and the most difficult character to cast. No one wanted to be a hardcore Nazi… but then we cast our net wider and Karin was waiting in the wings in Stockholm and she is a Gem! I am very proud of all of them and Stanley Weber, and Eva Magyar, I think they all did an amazing job.
Q: This is the second narrative feature you wrote and directed. What’s the biggest challenge for you as indie filmmaker in terms of bringing your story vision to life?
These days making an independent feature is an incredibly difficult task…to get the stars to align is a rare and beautiful thing but I also believe that as a woman it has been even harder. This was not an easy story to tell, but I had an amazing team of people supporting me and the film. My producer Lizzie Pickering who has been incredible, raising money relentlessly, never giving up as well as our Executive Producers Georges Tsitos who kept us on track from the beginning and then Rupert Labrum who was our first serious investor and stayed loyally with us until the end and many more who subsequently joined. We gathered support by holding storytelling circles in peoples houses and inviting them to listen to a video of Helga and hear her story and then slowly, slowly the money came.
Q: There are some really difficult scenes to watch, especially between Helga and her mother. Can you tell me what’s been the most challenging aspect of filming this?
Filming any scene whatever the content is about making sure that the actors are 100% in the space and time and world that they are meant to be inhabiting, that way they are authentic and then we have done our job. The whole reason that the scenes between Traudi and Helga are different from anything that I have seen before on this subject is that Traudi makes us understand from her perspective what normal was for them in that extreme situation. It is untenable for us in our world knowing what happened, to accept what she says but it’s equally important that we realise what it was like in their shoes. Helga’s dearest wish is that the film may play a tiny part in preventing history from repeating itself.
Q: I love that the films are shot on location and it was stunningly shot by Michael Wood, set to a lush score by Phil Selway. Can you share about finding the locations in the UK and Austria, as well as the scoring process?
Michael Wood is an amazing D.O.P but then he also had the fabulous Alex Walker our designer to pair up with. The two of them did a beautiful job with few resources. David Broder our other producer found Minley Manor in Kent which was used for the old peoples home and then we decided that being in a few key places in Vienna was crucial, like the Judenplatz and so made the financial commitment to shoot in Vienna too. Michael understood very quickly what I wanted to do with the light in this film and the energy of the restless camera. I feel he achieved a great look and Alex also indulged my minimalist approach to spaces, allowing me to eliminate a lot of props and furniture so that we could really focus on the emotional intensity in some of the scenes. We had a great thing going between the three of us. I also want to mention Daniel Goddard who I have worked with for many years as an editor, he too completely understood what I was aiming for, he is a very sensitive and experienced editor and worked wonders.
Philip Selway has been amazing from the absolute beginning. He came on board before most other people and immediately started talking to me about the script. He was so supportive and also so positive about the story, he really understood the themes and spent a lot of time building up sound beds and themes laying the foundations for what turned out to be a stunningly beautiful score. Philip was key in keeping me true to my initial ideas.
Q: Last but not least, would you tell me some of films that’ve influenced you, particularly those dealing with WWII?
I actually grew up in many different countries but spent ten years of my childhood in France and was very influenced by French films. They have far more stories that are about the emotional journey rather than the physical one and that very much influences how I like to tell stories. I can’t say that I see this film as a WWII film and so never approached it like that. I just wanted to tell the story of a family , who had lost their men in the war and had to find their way in the world together, four women , carrying with them a secret that was so extraordinarily heavy, a secret that could have destroyed them all, but they were given a moment in time to let it go, to tell the truth and to let it go and in that way there is hope. ///
Directed By: David Leitch Written By: Kurt Johnstad (screenplay) Runtime: 1 hr 55 minutes
When I found out I would be reviewing this film, I pulled up an article on it for a little background information-and made the mistake of reading the comments. They were mostly all the same, with guys accusing Atomic Blonde of being pandering and asserting that the movie is unrealistic because women are too frail and weak to be badass action heroes. It was infuriating, and it made me hope that that this movie would be amazing, just to spite the trolls. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.
In Atomic Blonde, an adaptation of the graphic novel series The Coldest City by Antony Johnston, MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) recounts her mission in Cold War Berlin to track down a list of double agents to MI6 executive Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA official Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman). From the moment she meets up with fellow agent David Percival (James McAvoy), Lorraine is plunged into danger and intrigue as she works to complete her mission.
This is an incredibly fun action movie. The fight choreography is impressive, ranging from creative and graceful to realistically graphic, and even some of that is surprisingly gorgeous; there’s one scene where blood is spattered on a large painting of a woman’s face right on her mouth, making it look almost like a messy lipstick kiss. Having it all set to a phenomenal soundtrack of 80’s rock makes it even more entertaining. The technical aspects of the movie are impressive as well. The editing is tight and creative; one moment that stands out is in a scene where a body being thrown into a river, and as soon as it hits the surface, the scene cuts to Lorraine’s face breaking the water as she sits up in a bathtub. There are several gorgeous, well-balanced shots. The film overall is dark and gritty but glossy, which is perfect for a graphic novel adaptation, although the green filter is a little overused.
It can be hard to critique acting in a movie like this when so much of the focus is on the action and visuals, but Charlize Theron and James McAvoy still manage to shine in their roles. Theron is cold, calculating, and tough but still shows brief moments of panic and sadness without being melodramatic. McAvoy is so much fun to watch in this as well; he is so good at acting goofy but still a little unhinged and sinister (as proven in Split earlier this year). My one critique is some of their line reads are hard to understand, but I’m not sure if they’re mumbling or if there’s a sound-mixing problem. If you’re looking for a fun, beautifully-shot action movie to see this summer, you should definitely check this out. Ignore the trolls.
Have you seen ‘Atomic Blonde’? Well, what did you think?