TCFF 2021 Documentary Reviews: After Antartica + A Fire Within

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After Antartica

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The title of Legendary Polar Explorer is not a title easily earned. Minnesota-born educator, author and lecturer Will Steger earned that title when in the years between 1989–1990, he was the first to dogsled traverse Antarctica, and the International Arctic Project. Then in 1995, he became the first and only person to dogsled traverse the Arctic Ocean from Russia to Ellesmere Island in Canada.

After Antarctica is a feature-length documentary that follows Will Steger’s life journey as an eyewitness to the greatest changes in the polar regions of our planet. Thirty years after his historic coast-to-coast expedition across the coldest continent on Earth, Steger is not only known for being the first in history to complete this historic feat – he is also the last. The documentary, directed by Tasha Van Zandt in her feature debut, goes along with Steger as he revisits the frigid continent, deftly weaving his contemporary journey with rare, dynamic footage of his original, treacherous seven-month odyssey.

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After Antarctica is “a journey across both poles [that] follows legendary polar explorer Will Steger’s life journey as an eyewitness to the greatest changes to the polar regions of our planet.” The part of coming out to this documentary is that there will be a Q & A after the movie with the Legendary Polar Explorer himself – Will Steger – who came to St. Louis Park from his home in Ely, Minnesota.


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A Fire Within

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This documentary tells a harrowing, emotional, but ultimately triumphant story about a subject matter I have not heard about before. In the mid 1970s, a violent political repression campaign called Ethiopian Red Terror, organized by council of military members known as the Derg against competing Marxist-Leninist groups in Ethiopia and Eritrea that killed over 700,000 people.

Edgegayehu “Edge” Taye, Elizabeth Demissie, and Hirut Abebe were jailed and tortured in their teens by Kelbessa Negewo, a Derg official nicknamed the “The Nightmare of Addis Ababa.” They managed to survive that ordeal and found refuge in North America, settling in Atlanta, New York, and Canada. Edge later found out that Kelbessa was working in the same hotel she did in Midtown Atlanta, as he was seeking political asylum after the fall of the Derg. The three women decided to finally bring Kelbessa to justice, which meant confronting something so brutal it made me shield my eyes a few times.

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There’s often a rather clichéd statement ‘you can’t escape the past’ that you see in an action movie trailer. Well, in the case of these three women though, having to confront such a distressing past is not something banal or trite, but a very real thing. Director Christopher Chambers employed re-enactment technique of the vicious tortures the women endured, which was really difficult to watch. Combined with the personal testimony of the women themselves as they recount their harrowing experience, we get to see their emotional struggles in a visceral way.

The film is produced by Liya Kebede, a renowned Ethiopian-born model and actress. It provides a good political context of Ethiopia that led to the Red Terror campaign, with the helps of political lecturers and their legal team (who worked on their case pro bono). But what really made the film effective is the firsthand account from these three brave women. It’s a powerful human rights documentary that packs an emotional punch.

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This film is screening online throughout the entire TCFF run… plus

FREE SCREENING ON SATURDAY!

October 30th, 12pm
Showplace ICON Theatres 

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PRODUCER/DIRECTOR – Christopher Chambers in Attendance!
To obtain free tickets, simply come to the TCFF Office at least 30 minutes prior to the screening to obtain vouchers.

TCFF OFFICE LOCATION
1633 West End Blvd. St. Louis Park, MN 55416


We’re halfway done with TCFF 2021, but there are still more great films to watch this week!

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To learn more about TCFF or get tickets visit twincitiesfilmfest.org


TCFF Indie Film Review: SOLD OUT (2021)

I love music-themed movies, so I was excited to see SOLD OUT. Somehow I did not realize the Minnesota-connection until I started watching this movie, which opens with a snowy Minneapolis skyline. Strangely-enough, I warmed up to this movie right away. It centers on a down-on-his-luck construction worker John (Sam Bardwell) who wants to pursue his musical dreams as a singer/songwriter. We first meet John in marriage therapy with his wife who clearly isn’t too happy about her husband’s idea of becoming a musician. Later on we meet freelance talent scout Kat (Kelsey McMahon) who’s having a moment as the rock band Lincoln 8 she discovered just had a breakthrough. They’re playing to a sold-out crowd at First Avenue, a major Twin Cities landmark, and getting multiple offers.  The scene of the band playing on stage is beautifully-shot and it’s even more fun for me to watch as I actually knew a couple of the actors in the band – Matt Bailey (looking every inch a rock star as the lead singer) and Alex Galick as the keyboardist.

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John and Kat end up meeting by chance at a bar, when he overhears that she is a talent scout. John takes a chance and gives his CD to Kat to listen to, which leads to Kat taking him under her wing to help him realize his potential. I usually enjoy music-themed dramas like Begin Again, Sing Street, Once, etc. and this one has a similar vibe. The road-movie aspect as John and Kat go on the road together gives a chance for the two main characters to connect, plus it also showcases some really cool MN Wintry scenes. There’s a memorable scene right in the middle of a frozen lake at sunrise that could totally be the film’s poster!

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It’s always important for films about music to have memorable musical sequences in them (on stage or otherwise) and there are a few here. I like the scene where John does a duet of Amazing Grace with Kat’s dad in the kitchen. It’s such a lovely, intimate moment. I love that the film shows the process, struggles and sacrifices that one has to make to pursue one’s dreams, even if it seems out of reach. Director Tim Dahlseid, is quite impressive in his feature film debut, ably balancing the music, drama and romantic aspects. I also commend Susan Brightbill (who’s written a TV movie called Holiday Hearts) for penning a compelling script with a complex woman at the center. There is a lot of layers to the story in terms of who Kat really is–there’s really a lot for a talented performer to dig into.

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Which brings me to Kelsey McMahon (a MN-based actress currently studying at the prestigious Juilliard school). I’m so impressed with her performance and she is very much the heart and soul of the movie. I like her right from the moment I saw her walking to First Avenue with her torn jeans and moto leather jacket. She doesn’t just look cool, she IS cool! She reminds me a bit of Florence Pugh in Fighting with My Family in terms of her no-nonsense attitude and genuine spunk. I hope to see more of her in the future, can’t wait for Hollywood to discover such talent! Both she and Sam Bardwell have such a good voice, which makes the characters even more believable. I really enjoy this film that I’m willing to overlook certain issues, such as pacing and unconvincing acting (by a couple of the supporting roles).

Overall it’s a truly charming, heartfelt indie film that proves once again that a good story and great performances can elevate a film no matter how small the budget. I have to commend the filmmakers for crafting such an emotionally-moving finale… it’s a perfect ending to both John and Kat’s journey that feels hopeful, yet realistic.

4/5 stars


SOLD OUT is now available to rent on AMAZON PRIME


 

TCFF 2021 Reviews: A Northwest Passage + Everything In The End + Drunk Bus

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These film are currently available online throughout the entire Twin Cities Film Fest – Oct 21-30. 

A Northwest Passage 

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Shot entirely in the neighborhood of Northeast Minneapolis, A Northwest Passage tells the story of its residents, neighbors, business owners & employees, and activists who call that part of the largest city in Minnesota their home or place of business. Shot by Gregory Alan Paape and Tyler Paul Hudson during the four months between September and December 2020, the documentary deals with how people of various ages, faiths, skin color and sexual orientations have dealt with the events that came together in Northeast Minneapolis, in Minnesota and in the United States as a whole.

The COVID-19 pandemic, the unrest following the murder of George Floyd, the Presidential Election and  the ramifications of those events coming together made the year 2020 unique for everyone including the residents of Northeast Minneapolis. Paape and Hudson take us throughout one of the oldest neighborhoods of Minneapolis, as people are ordering takeout, catching a bus, shopping at Target or Cub Foods, or shooting hoops with their friends. The interviews they conduct with these strangers show that these people are more connected than they might realize. Even though they might not realize it, they share the same hope, fear and desire to make their community a better place.

I would strongly recommend this documentary for everyone who wants to learn about how one community survived the events of 2020 and came out stronger together.


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Everything In The End

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The premise is quite simple; Paulo (Hugo De Sousa) has travelled from Portugal to Iceland, while still grieving from the recent death of his mother, a trip they were supposed to do together. While there, news the world has been waiting for finally arrives – earth will cease to exist in a matter of days. Unable, and somewhat hesitant to go back home to Portugal, Paulo is stranded in a small Icelandic village where not everyone speaks English, and he spends his last days wandering a delicate foreign land and encountering the people he will spend his final hours with. He makes intimate human connections with a mother and her son, bonds with another younger man with the help of a bottle of alcohol, and uses the help of a middle-aged man, who assists Paulo find his way around the Icelandic countryside. Each brief moment of human connectedness helps Paulo process his grief as he comes to accept the end.

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Everything In The End is directed and written by Mylissa Fitzsimmons, in her feature directorial debut. It was shot in Iceland with a crew of seven people and beautifully showcases the quiet natural wonder of waves crashing along the shores, while also exploring subtle themes of climate change and Earths destruction through meaningful visuals. Also, the character of Paulo is written as a relatable, vulnerable and charming young man who shares in film’s main theme; who are we, as humans, as members of society and as inhabitants of this planet? The answers to those questions may not be easily told in words but the film does so by showing us that it’s the small details in life that make us human.

Everything In The End is one of my “can’t miss movies” of the 2021 Twin Cities Film Festival!


Drunk Bus

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This equally funny and outrageous film follows the life of Michael (Charlie Tahan), who recently graduated from college. In his mid-20s, Michael’s futures plans get derailed when his girlfriend leaves him for a job in New York City, and he is left stuck in Ohio without a new plan of his own. The only thing left for him to do is to continue the endless loop of driving the “Drunk Bus,” the debaucherous late-night campus shuttle that ferries drunken college students from parties to the dorms and back. After several physical altercations with drunken college students, the bus service hires a private security guard named Pinnacle (fun fact: his real life name is Pineapple Tangaroa) to watch over the night shift and keep Michael safe.

The 300-lb punk rock Samoan, whose tattooed face is impossible to forget, gives Michael a good ass-kicking to try to force him to break from his “Drunk Bus” loop and start living his own life or risk driving in circles forever. Partly a coming-of-age journey, and partially a crazy, wild night of partying, the movie finds the perfect balance between a rowdy, indulgent comedy and a poignant and heartfelt drama.

Interestingly, this movie would fit well in this year’s TCFF change maker series topic of mental wellness; because Michael’s mental state in the movie really changes 180 degrees from start to finish.


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Director: Iman Zawahry
Runtime: 91 Minutes

Set in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York, the film follows a relatable and endearing storyline offering a fresh perspective on classic rom-com tropes. Americanish delves into the complexity of trying to both honor and break from cultural traditions while balancing personal values and career goals in a society that does not always accommodate both.


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TCFF 2021 Horror Reviews: Night at the Eagle Inn + The Curse of Raven Heights

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One of my favorite things about Twin Cities Film Fest is that it always takes place close to Halloween, so it’s the perfect time to check out independent horror movies I might not have heard of otherwise. While there aren’t quite as many this year as there have been in previous years (thanks, Covid), there are still some great ones to check out.

Even if you’re still trying to avoid large social  gatherings, there are several films, including a couple I recently watched, that are available for streaming. 

Night at the Eagle Inn

Director: Erik Bloomquist

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My first film was Night at the Eagle Inn, in which twins Sarah (Amelia Dudley) and Spencer (Taylor Turner) visit the mysterious and secluded hotel in Vermont where they were born, their mother died, and their father disappeared 24 years earlier. While horror stories taking place in hotels is nothing new (this one even has one fun homage to The Shining), it’s still a great setting if it’s well done, and fortunately for this movie, it is. There’s plenty of suspense and genuine scares without any need for special effects, proving that simple horror tropes can be effective when done well.

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Both the score and set design are excellent. The lead actors have great sibling chemistry, and Beau Minniear as Dean, the handyman, gives a really fun performance, especially toward the end. My one gripe is that some of the dialogue between the siblings, especially when they meet the eccentric night manager (Greg Schweers) comes across as awkward and unbelievable at times. Overall, though, this is an incredibly enjoyable horror movie. 


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The Curse of Raven Heights

Director: Blair Smith

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My second film was The Curse of Raven Heights, which follows a widowed father, Kyle (Paul Economon), and his young daughters Robin (Sally-Anne Hunt) and Angela (Hannah Rae Theisen) as they travel to the home of his deceased Aunt Ginny to settle her affairs. They soon discover that Ginny and her sister were part of a coven, and a tragic event may have set in motion a curse affecting the family generations later. While this film isn’t quite as solid as the previous one- the writing is a little unevenly paced, and they try to fit a bit too much into its hour and twenty minute run time- there’s still a lot to enjoy.

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It’s beautifully shot, the score is lovely, and the family dynamic between the father and daughters is really nice. Some of the performances are a little melodramatic, but it mostly works with the tone of the movie. While the writing is a little messy at times, this is still an engaging, unique horror film.

Night at the Eagle Inn has screened at TCFF on Saturday, October 23rd at 9:30 PM and The Curse of Raven Heights is screening on Friday, October 29th at 9:30 PM, or you can stream either of them on twincitiesfilmfest.org.


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FlixChatter Review: DUNE (2021)

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Few films are as buzzy as DUNE in the past decade and after nearly a year delay, its eventual release date felt like it crept up on me all of sudden. The press screening was packed, which wasn’t always the case lately as most screenings have been barely half full. But DUNE felt like a cinematic event, and the visuals on screen certainly attest to that. No wonder, Denis Villeneuve wasn’t pleased that DUNE will be released on HBO Max the same day as its theatrical opening, even from the first five minutes, this is a film to be seen in as big a screen as possible.

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Right from its opening screen, I was immediately in awe of the visuals… the world building that Villeneuve has done with his longtime collaborator Patrice Vermette. Set in the year 10191, the universe of DUNE is undeniably vast, so I’m glad I had read up about it leading up to the film. It certainly helps me digest the plot a bit better, which begins on planet Caladan, where the leader of the House Atreides, Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) is preparing for a new role as the governor of Arrakis.

It’s a lucrative gig given the desert planet is the only place the vital natural resource of spice, aka melange, can be found in the galaxy. Of course, that new power comes with a dangerous enemy, especially from the House Harkonnen, the previous family in charge of mining the spice. Like any greedy colonial government, the Harkonnen is good at stripping any place of its natural resources and use it for their own gain. Naturally they’re not happy to have to leave Arrakis and would do anything to regain control of it.

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At the center of the story is Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the Duke’s son and heir of the royal house. Obviously he’s special given what he’s to inherit, but he’s also got special powers thanks to his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), who belongs to a mythical intergalactic guild comprised of women with special powers called Bene Gesserit. The scene between Paul is tested by the guild’s leader Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) is a memorable one and filled with mystery and suspense. The film shows just how revered and powerful this group is, as Mohiam is seen talking to and wielding her influence in both royal houses.

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The set design, architecture, costumes, and the futuristic elements are marvelous to look at. The Atreides’ home base in Arrakis capital Arrakeen looks like a world war bunker with its angular shape, which I read is what the style was modeled after. The construction looks like it could withstand the extreme climate and high winds of the desert planet. I especially LOVE the four-winged, dragonfly-like chopper (ornithopter) used by the Atreides, which apparently built for real by a company in England specifically for the film. This meticulous details of futuristic elements are the kind of stuff we go see a sci-fi movie for! I’ve always appreciate films shot on location and the fact that DUNE was filmed in UAE and Jordan definitely lends authenticity to the story, you could almost believe this desert planet actually exists.

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Given the complexity of the story, this film could’ve easily get bogged down by exposition. Thankfully, the script by Jon Spaihts, Eric Roth and Villeneuve did a good job in not over-explaining things. I like how Dr. Liet-Kynes, the planetary ecologist explain how the Fremen stillsuits work to help survive Arrakis’ harsh environment while commenting on how Paul seems to already been familiar with a world he never steps foot in. It’s obvious that Paul, like his mother, has supernatural abilities who’s destined for adventure and greatness.

One of my favorite scene is when Paul is in his room studying about Arrakis via holographic imagery and senses a foreign object has trespassed his space. It’s such a cool, thrilling scene that’s beautifully-filmed. Given this is just first part of the story, the script feels more enigmatic that sparks my curiosity. I like all the mystery of it all… the secrecy surrounding Bene Gesserit, the Fremen’s native people and desert power, etc. There’s a lot to take in, but the film makes it enjoyable to digest them.

Hans Zimmer‘s music helps immerse me in the desert universe with its Middle-Eastern motifs and African beats. Just like Villeneuve, Zimmer has been a huge fan of the book in his teenage years. He seems to relish working on this project and the result is an evocative, soulful and rousing score. As much as I love it though, the music can get overwhelming in some scenes as it overpowers the action. I think in certain parts, the music could have been toned down a bit.

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I have to commend Villeneuve in the one thing that many filmmakers struggle with, and that is pacing. It’s especially crucial in films over 2 hours long, but for me, its 2.5-hour running time didn’t feel like a drag. I do have my quibbles–for one, the films does feel overly indulgent at times, likely because of the director’s passion for the subject matter. The film’s energy also dips a bit in the second act, but overall it’s well-paced and the talented actors help keep me engaged throughout.

Oh and what an ensemble cast it was! Chalamet is perfect as the film’s protagonist, he’s got a strong screen presence with his handsome, youthful face and lithe figure. There’s an inner tumult and angst, which is typical in a teenage boy, but there seems to be something deeper that plagues him… as he constantly dreams of a Fremen girl that’s both seductive and ominous. Zendaya’s Chani is an important figure in the story. Though she doesn’t really get to do much until the third act, her presence is felt throughout through Paul’s dreams.

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In the House Atredeis side, I love how commanding and regal Oscar Isaac looks as the Duke with his glorious grayish hair and matching beard. Apparently he lobbied for a role in DUNE and he’s spot on as the patriarch who’s protective but also loving to his heir. But then again, he rarely made a wrong move since I first laid eyes on him in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood as Prince John. I’ve loved Rebecca Ferguson since The White Queen series and she’s got the beauty, strength and certain mystical aura as Lady Jessica. She has the most screen time with Chalamet here and I like the unconventional mother-son dynamic. In many ways, his mother is also his mentor as she was still training Paul to use the ‘voice,’ an audio-neuro mechanism used to manipulate others. 

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As the Duke’s most trusted military advisers, both Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa have the brute force as well as intellect required for the roles. The fighting scenes are pretty cool to watch, especially since the characters use an invisible shield, some kind of protective energy field that make them temporarily impervious from harm. Charlotte Rampling is not in the film much but you definitely won’t forget her in one pivotal scene. In the House Harkonnen side, we’ve got the villainous Baron Harkonnen, who looks like an oily version of Jabba the Hutt. Stellan Skarsgård portrayed the role in full body prosthetic jumpsuit. He doesn’t have to act much as his body makeup alone does the work. Baron is more repulsive than scary, while Dave Bautista barely has much to do here as his henchman.

Javier Bardem plays the leader of a Fremen tribe who has the audacity to visit the House Atredeis without an invitation. He’s a knight-like figure who’s strong and defiant, but like Zendaya, we only get to see him prominently in the third act. Taiwanese actor Chen Chang has some memorable moments as House Atredeis’ family physician Dr. Yueh despite his limited screen time. Last but definitely not least, there’s Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Dr. Liet-Kynes who’s easily one of my favorite characters in the entire film. Apparently the film changed the gender of the character from male to female in the book, which I think works just as well. Duncan-Brewster has a charismatic presence here so I’m glad to see her featured prominently throughout.

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I think fans of the book would likely have more things to pick apart than those who have not, such as myself. Herbert’s book has an anti-imperial, anti-colonial themes woven in its larger arcs. Even without reading the book, I could see the unsubtle commentary on Middle Eastern oil (swapped for the spice in this story) and also its environmental message that resonates today in regards to climate change and lack of care for our planet. As for the ‘white savior trope’ criticism towards the book, Villeneuve himself has addressed that as saying that ‘…it’s not a celebration of a savior, but more of a criticism of the idea of a savior, of someone that will come and tell another population how to be, what to believe.’ As someone from a SE Asian country that was colonized for over three centuries by a small country who literally mined our spices, obviously I’m not fond of this commonly-used narrative.

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To be fair, I think Villeneuve has tread carefully in this regard and present Paul’s story as someone who struggles with the idea that he’s seen as a savior. He’s shown as being passionate to learn about Arrakis and its people. There’s a scene where he’s talking to a Fremen watering the native palm trees. You can imagine how precious water is to a desert planet, and Paul questions whether the water should be saved for the people instead.

There’s also a scene where he and his mother mimic the Desert Walk of the Fremen where one alters its rhythm while walking on sand. It’s not just for efficiency but for survival given the giant sand worm is a constant threat. The fictional extraterrestrial desert creature is meticulously designed and it’s quite thrilling and suspenseful every time it glides through under the sand and practically swallow everything in its path, even a giant mining machine, if you can’t outrun it.

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Overall I’m impressed with what Villeneuve has done in bringing his vision of DUNE to life. It’s more than just a feast for the eyes, but the narrative delivery offers something thrilling and thought-provoking. The version we’re seeing is in fact Villeneuve’s vision from when he was a teen when he first read Frank Herbert’s influential sci-fi novel. I’ve mentioned in this post that I haven’t seen the David Lynch version, or should I say the Dino De Laurentiis version as Lynch disowned it. Not that it matters as Villeneuve has said repeatedly that his version wouldn’t have any semblance to the 1984 film. ‘Fear is the mind-killer,’ that’s the book’s mantra, but it might as well be Villeneuve’s as well given he dared to tackle something deemed ‘unfilmable.’ Tackling this weighty project obviously takes some massive ambition, passion and craftsmanship. It takes an even higher level of courage given that the Montreal-born director took this on after the major box office bomb of Blade Runner 2049 which also happens to be a remake of a 1980s version. 

Now, I’m not saying this movie is without flaws. I was hoping there’d be more emotional resonance given the high stakes. I didn’t connect with some of the key characters as much I had hoped, either because they’re under-developed or inaccessible. I figure it’s par for the course that the film feels incomplete, as this is just the first part of the whole story (even the poster spells it out… IT BEGINS). One thing for sure, there’s enough to get me invested in the world of DUNE, and the ending certainly makes me hope we get to see the conclusion in part II.

4/5 stars


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

TCFF 2021 Reviews: Paradise Strong + Pretty Boy

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Paradise Strong

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This film is available both in person at the Showplace ICON Theaters on Friday October 22 at 4:30 PM and online throughout the entire run of TCFF – Oct 21-30. 

This is the true life story of the Camp Fire, a wildfire that devastated the community of Paradise, California on November 8, 2018. Minnesota-based director Jonathan Vinson went out to California to interview the families directly affected by the Camp Fire. He showcased the courage of the survivors, which radiates not only in their efforts to save their neighbors and themselves, but also in their unwavering resolve to heal, to care for their neighbors, and to hold onto hope for the future. Search and rescue efforts turned out to be only search and recovery.

The Red Cross had to stay for longer than usual to accommodate individuals displaced by the fire. This would turn into the deadliest wildfire in California history, burning most of the homes in the community. After the fire, thousands of people in the Paradise area were trying to figure out how to rebuild and if it can ever be the same as before. Many families had to make the painstaking choice to leave Paradise forever, while others found a way to stay in the area and even attempt to rebuild. Needless to say, some families would never be able to return to Paradise as the adults and kids suffered PTSD from the flames of the Camp Fire that chased them out of town on that terrible day.

There are some glimmers of hope for those families, as some of them discovered precious and cherished items that the fire didn’t destroy. It is these little moments that make Paradise Strong an unforgettably touching documentary.


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Pretty Boy

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This film is only available in person at the Showplace ICON Theaters on Friday October 22 at 9:00 PM.

In 2019, Director Marcel Walz and Minnesota-born writer Joe Knetter’s film Blind, starring Minnesota born and raised actress Sarah French, was shown at the Twin Cities Film Fest and was well received by the Minnesota horror crowds. Two years later, the team of Walz, Knetter, and Fresh are back with their new film Pretty Boy, a follow up to the 2019 slasher. French reprises the female lead character Faye in Pretty Boy as does Jed Rowen, who plays the title character. The new film starts as a Hollywood Hills Valentine’s Day party is wrapping up.

The host, a record producer named Preston, and an aspiring singer and songwriter guest at the party named Rayna, are in talks about her future while other guests have found other parts of the house to hook up. The masked slasher Pretty Boy shows up carrying Faye, a famous blind actress that he has kidnapped from her home. While the masked slasher begins killing everyone he meets in order to have Faye all to himself, she escapes the Valentine’s Day party only to be taken in by a mild-mannered couple that seem a little off. This sets up the dramatic reveal or who Pretty Boy is and where he comes from. The only thing unresolved is whether he stays with Faye or if he will end up all alone.

The film is full of glam, glitter, pink lights and the ‘80s sounding tune Love is Blind by Mirko Hirsch. Hopefully the Midwest Premiere of Pretty Boy will be just as fun as the 2019 screening of Blind, which featured an appearance by Sarah French, Joe Knetter and masks for everyone in the audience. Be warned, there is plenty of blood, guts and gore in this glamorous horror slasher film.


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FlixChatter Review: The Electrical Life Of Louis Wain (2021)

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Benedict Cumberbatch has built his career on quirky roles, and he once again plays an eccentric genius. This time it’s an English artist Louis Wain whose surreal cat paintings, um, catapulted his career at the end of the 19th century. Now, I never thought there was a time when cats weren’t household pets, well apparently part of Wain’s legacy was change the image of cats as distrustful creatures into something cute and cuddly.

Louis’ life however, isn’t quite warm and fuzzy. As the first of six children and the only boy, Wain ends ups supporting all his sisters and his mother following his father’s death. So undoubtedly Wain has a peculiar upbringing and he seems to be willing to put up with a lot, especially the constant berating from the eldest of his five sisters Caroline (Andrea Riseborough). But his spirits perk up upon meeting Emily Richardson (Claire Foy), a governess his family hired for his younger sisters. The romance is frowned upon by the family, particularly Caroline, as Emily is 10 years his senior. But despite their objections, the two are quickly married and moved to Hampstead. It’s there that his love for cats blossomed after they adopted a stray kitten they named Peter.

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There seems to be no shortage of amazingly-gifted artists with tragic lives, and Louis faces tragedy in both love and career despite reaching a certain degree of fame and notoriety. He didn’t get to live a long married life with the love of his life due to cancer, which made him even more prolific with his cat drawings during Emily’s illness. At one point she woke up to a room literally filled with cat paintings Louis had drawn. The relationship between Louis and Emily is quite sweet, and Foy has such a lovely presence on screen, so it’s too bad her screen time is pretty limited here.

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In terms of career, one can’t help but see the similarities between Louis and Nikola Tesla, one of the most brilliant inventors with the brightest minds who somehow didn’t have the business smarts and faced poverty during his lifetime. Louis confessed to his sisters that he didn’t sign copyright of his work, which caused him to constantly face financial difficulties. For a while Louis was employed at Illustrated London News by its owner, Sir William Ingram (Toby Jones), who became a close friend, but he became sort of a freelance artist throughout his career.

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As a narrative feature, director Will Sharpe (show-runner of the Flowers UK series) is a curious one with a rather bizarre directorial choices that feels experimental and at times psychedelic and overly sentimental. It also uses a narration by Olivia Colman, which feels like a crutch to help us understand what’s going on at certain points of Louis’ life. As the title suggest, there’s also Louis’ pre-occupation with electricity, which I find quite amusing given Cumberbatch played Thomas Edison in The Current War in 2017. Some of his electric-cat drawings reflects this period, shifting from the more anthropomorphic style where the cats are drawn behaving like humans. 

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The depiction of schizophrenia that plagued Wain’s family is at times too manic or too whimsical. Starting with one of his sisters who ended up in a mental hospital, Louis too, suffered from that chronic brain disorder, depicted vividly in the film where he imagines himself drowning and screaming for help from his father. Perhaps the frenzied style is meant to showcase Louis’ mental state, which also tends to succumb to sorrowful mood. Speaking of drowning, I feel like the film often drowns in sadness. The moment Louis lost Peter, the cat he and Emily adopted, Louis is absolutely crestfallen that he sobs for a long period of time as he’s lying on the floor. Then in his later years when Louis is in his 70s living in a mental institution, the gray-haired, weary-faced artist is visited by an old friend whom he first met on a train decades prior. He laments about the harsh life in the psychiatric hospital and how he misses his cats.

The performances are as uneven as the film itself. The usually terrific Andrea Riseborough delivers a strange one-note performance that’s almost grating as she’s screaming all the time, usually directed at poor Louis. Claire Foy has a nice chemistry with Cumberbatch and she has kind of a wide-eyed curiosity as his love interest. I enjoy seeing character actor Adeel Akhtar in a prominent role as Mr. Rider, one of Wain’s biggest allies who helps him secure a more pleasant place to call home, complete with a garden and plenty of cats. As for the two famous cameos, well Taika Waititi’s appearance is largely unmemorable, while Nick Cave’s H.G. Wells is also a blink-and-you-missed it moment.

As for Cumberbatch, though he’s played too many similar characters in his career, he’s still quite good in the role. In fact, he’s competent enough to rise above the uneven direction and still makes a compelling portrait of a true artist that you can’t help root for. I’m glad I got to know a bit about Louis Wain and his work/legacy. The biopic isn’t quite um, electric as it wishes to be, but there’s enough going for this to warrant a recommendation.

3/5 stars


What did YOU think of The Electrical Life of Louise Wain?