Guest Review: LADY BIRD (2017)

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Directed By: Greta Gerwig
Written By: Greta Gerwig
Runtime: 1 hr 34 minutes

So at this point I think that my opinion of Lady Bird is wrong – if it is possible for an opinion on a piece of art to be wrong. The vast majority of everyone seems to have decided that Lady Bird is a piece of subtle genius, a near perfect discussion of adolescence and mother/daughter relationships.

But the movie didn’t do it for me.

Lady Bird opens on a mother and daughter traveling in a car as the last several moments of The Grapes of Wrath fill the silence between them. The monologue ends and Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) removes the cassette tape from the tape deck, puts it back in its case, and takes a moment to sit in a harmonious sniffling silence with her mother (Laurie Metcalf). It is one of the few moments of harmony between the two characters and, like every other such moment, it quickly devolves in an argument, which itself terminates with a very dramatic, perfectly indie exit from the vehicle.

Lady Bird’s primary asset is its perfect grasp on indie films as a genre. Lady Bird perfectly encapsulates the quirky real-world aesthetic that makes indie movies so much fun through muted cinematography, a subtle script, and understated performances.

The cast in Lady Bird was incredible. Beanie Feldstein was charming as Julie Steffans, Lady Bird’s best friend. Lucas Hedges played a heart rending Danny O’Neill. Laurie Metcalf (again, the mother character) broke my damn heart on her drive around the airport out of the park, which was an especially marked achievement considering that that portion of the story made no sense. Having loved Saoirse Ronan in movies like Brooklyn and Grand Budapest Hotel, I was surprised to find her completely uninteresting in Lady Bird. Ronan’s performance was a steady monotone, which was a jarring choice considering Lady Bird’s tumultuous inner life. Lady Bird is constantly rebelling, but her exterior is placid to a fault.

I also took issue with the development of two characters: Kyle Scheible (Timothee Chalamet) and Marion McPherson (Laurie Metcalf). Kyle Scheible was simultaneously filling two icky boyfriend tropes: the pseudo-intellectual and the popular kid, which meant that some of the best jokes were at his character’s expense, but also that he did not make sense as a person. Kyle Scheible always existed on the periphery of a group of beautiful people, ignoring them for books about philosophy or history.

Similarly, Marion McPherson, played to a tee by Laurie Metcalf, made no sense. Perhaps my own childhood, being the average thing that it was, did not prepare me to believe that it is possible for a mother to be so petty with so little reason, but don’t think that’s it. I can buy a mother who is a flawed human and says the wrong thing and, despite it all, is still probably a better mother than she had growing up. What I cannot buy (and excuse me for being vague – I am trying to avoid spoilers) is a mother who reacts in extremes that wind up hurting her more than her victims.

Worse, the end of the movie felt forced. One bad college party makes Lady Bird appreciate her upbringing and the values she was raised with. Although I understand the impulse to wrap the story up neatly, the reason behind the revelation was not there, so it just felt awkward.

Ultimately a few amazing performances and general indie charm are not enough to save Lady Bird. If nothing else interesting is playing, I would still suggest watching it. It’s worth it for the the constant stream of early 2000s nostalgia that runs through the entire movie and a few powerful moments: the hug between Lady Bird and Danny O’Neill (you’ll know it when you see it) and the mother’s drive through the airport are two such moments that come to mind.

Lady Bird has its moments.


hollyHolly P. is a twenty-something millennial who enjoys shouting at people on the internet, riding her bicycle, and overbooking her schedule. She prefers storytelling that has a point and comedy that isn’t mean. Her favorite movies are Aladdin, the Watchmen (even though the book was way better), and Hot Fuzz.  She’s seen every Lord of the Rings movie at least a dozen times.  You can follow her @tertiaryhep on twitter or @hollyhollyoxenfreee on Instagram. She’s also on Tinder, but if you find her there she’ll probably ghost on you because wtf is dating in the 21st century. 


Have you seen ‘Lady Bird’? Well, what did you think? 

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FlixChatter Review – THOR: Ragnarok (2017)

It’s been almost two weeks since I saw Thor: Ragnarok and I’m still giddy thinking about it. In fact, I had just seen Justice League two nights ago and honestly I’d rather write about the latest Thor movie, and this is one I’d readily watch again.

Let me preface this review with the fact that I’m a huge fan of its director, New Zealander Taika Waititi, ever since I saw What We Do In The Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople a year later. Those two rank as one of my favorite films of all time. In fact, even with an all star cast that includes my personal cinematic heroine Cate Blanchett, I’m most excited about Thor: Ragnarok because of Waititi. And boy did he deliver!!

It opens with our Asgardian hero, sans his Mjölnir hammer, being chained by a creature named Surtur who plans to destroy Thor’s planet by fulfilling the propechy of Ragnarok. Chris Hemsworth is definitely much more comfortable in the role, having played Thor half a dozen times by now. But here he gets to show off his comic chops as well. He manages to escape, gets his Mjölnir and fighting mojo back and he returns to Asgard. It’s always a hoot seeing Tom Hiddleston’s Loki (I actually like him more than Thor from the previous films). I’m not going to spoil it for you but what he discovers there is one of the most comical bits of the movie. Let’s just say Taika made a great use of a famous A-lister that could’ve played like an SNL skit if it wasn’t handled properly. Love seeing Sam Neill making a quick appearance too.

The following scenes takes Thor and his half brother Loki to earth, trying to figure out the wherebouts of his father. The scenes involving them and Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is funny stuff as well, peppered with Taika’s brand of quirky humor. As it turns out, it itsn’t just Loki who wants to take over the rule of Asgard, and this time she wouldn’t stop at that. With a name like Hela, of course she wants to rule the entire universe and unleash hell! Miss Blanchett relish on the opportunity to be a sexy, leather-clad, rockstar-ish goddess from hell, with another easy-on-the-eyes actor from Down Under Karl Urban as her lackey. Yes she seems to be purposely chewing the scenery but it works, and it’s fun to watch.

It’s clear the two brothers are no match for Hela and so Thor gets banished to a planet of scraps where his next crazy adventure begins! The new characters Taika introduced here, Valkyrie (bad-ass Tessa Thompson), the Grandmaster (the eternally amusing Jeff Goldblum), a rock creature Korg (voiced in a hilarious high-pitched voice by Taika himself) are all memorable! Even Rachel House (who was hilarious in Hunt for the Wilderpeople) got some hilarious one liners in the movie. I LOVE Valkyrie and Korg I wouldn’t mind seeing more of both of those characters in future Thor movies or even a spin-off! I also love seeing Idris Elba back as Heimdall, who became the loyal guardians for Asgardians. This is perhaps my favorite ensemble cast of all superhero movies.

I read that Taika has always wanted to make the latest Thor movie more comedic, whilst making some creative updates the character and its universe. Well he certainly’s done the job smashingly well! Yep, the term ‘Hulk Smash’ would apply to this movie and all the scenes with Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), both as Bruce Banner and the big green creature, are massively entertaining. Everyone seems to be having a blast making this and it shows. But just because it’s chock full of hilarious bits, it doesn’t mean there’s no plot here. The story actually holds up and there’s even some nice moments between Thor and Valkyrie that points to her past as Asgard’s defender. There’s a hint there might be something less-than-platonic between these two and you know what, I’d welcome it! It’s certainly more interesting than Thor and Natalie Portman’s Jane.

I’m glad that Marvel once again took a chance on an indie director (following the success of the Russo brothers with the Captain America movies) and Taika Waititi is one of recent filmmakers I discovered who I REALLY want to see making it big. I love that he pushed for more Indigenous representation in his films. Apparently he hired many Aboriginal crew members and the film was shot in Australia. There are quite a few in-jokes for Kiwis and Australians, like the Aboriginal flag colors and the spaceships named after types of Holden, Australian-made cars. My relative actually owned one of those when I was growing up in Indonesia!

SPOILER ALERT! (highlight to read) I don’t know if anyone else noticed this but the plot has a bit of social commentary about how the White people conquered a lot of the Indigenous land. When they’re inside the Asgardian palace, Hela said something about the dark history of Asgard… how Odin used to conquer different planets and wanting to rule the universe, with her by her side. But then Odin gained a conscience and became a benevolent ruler, thus banishing Hela because she didn’t share his vision. She said ‘where do you think we got all of this gold from?’ When I heard that, it sounded like a commentary about colonial privilege, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being the ‘stolen generation’ and white Australians living on someone else’s land. Even the Grandmaster’s line ‘slaves is such a harsh word, I prefer “prisoners with benefits”’ sounds like a sarcastic jab against people calling an awful thing differently as if that would actually lessen its awfulness.

Well, I’m curious if people notice those things or not. One thing for sure, this has become one of my all time favorite movie, not just my favorite Marvel movie. The actions scenes are definitely fun to watch. There are bombastic fight scenes but they don’t feel overlong or overdone like in some other superhero movies. There’s even an entertaining spaceship chase and of course the Thor vs Hulk battle promised in the trailer is still epic and fun! That ‘friend from work’ line is one of the many quotable quips from Taika Waititi’s movies I’d use again and again.

You would think it’d be tough to live up to the super fun trailer w/the rousing Led Zepellin’s Immigrant Song, but the movie manages to do just that… and then some! So yeah, Thor doesn’t just get a spunky new haircut but Taika gives him a whole new attitude and refreshing new take on his franchise. The funniest bits in the trailer is still hilarious in the movie, there’s so much joy and laughter in the whole theater. Like a joyful, thrilling amusement park ride, you can’t wait to get on it again as soon as it’s over!


Well, what did you think of ‘THOR: RAGNAROK’? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?

FlixChatter Review: Only The Brave (2017)

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Review by: Vitali Gueron

Only the Brave, based on the true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, is directed by Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion) and is loosely based on an article in GQ, ‘No Exit’, written by Sean Flynn. The film stars Josh Brolin, Miles Teller, Taylor Kitsch, James Badge Dale and features Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Connelly.

What most people know about the Granite Mountain Hotshots is that they are a young crew of specialist wildfire fighters, tasked with job of fighting wildfires head on.

According to GQ:

Hotshots are invariably referred to as elite firefighters, which suggests years of training, high-end equipment, and a mastery of the mechanics of wildfires. But none of that is required. The entry-level qualifications are a few dozen hours of classroom instruction and a decent level of fitness, and the primary tools are chain saws and Pulaskis, a specialty tool combining an ax and an adze. Hotshots also tend to be young…and few of them make a long career out of it.

During a routine assignment of fighting a wildfire in Yarnell, Arizona in June 2013, a total of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots were lost to the wildfire and it resulted in the greatest loss of firefighters since 9/11. This was known as the Yarnell Hill Fire. The lone survivor from the 20-man crew was 21-year-old Brendan McDonough (Teller). The pace of the movie starts out really slow, as tells the real life story of Eric and Amanda Marsh (Brolin and Connelly), a married couple who struggle through normal relationship ups and downs, living on a ranch outside Prescott, Arizona. Eric “Supe” Marsh is the superintendent of a hotshot crew of firefighters who are training to be certified to fight wildfires for the Prescott Fire Department. His second-in-command is Jesse Steed (Badge Dale) and the young hotshot crew trusts the both of them with their lives.

Josh Brolin and Jennifer Connelly

After sever weeks of intense training, in walks Brendan “Donut” McDonough (Donut is the nickname given to him by the more experienced hotshots, the same way a pledge gets one from his fraternity brothers during pledging). Donut went to the firefighters post in Prescott, where the hotshots were headquartered, with a mission. He knew a couple of guys from an EMT class he’d taken at a community college and he’d overheard them mention that Granite Mountain was hiring. But he was a stoned kid, straight out of serving a three-day sentence for theft and those guys knew him, too. No jobs, they told him. The veteran yet overly cocky hotshot Chris MacKenzie (Kitsch) told him straight up, all the positions had been filed. But Eric Marsh overhead McDonough asking and offered to interview him on the spot.

You see, Marsh saw something in McDonough, something he saw when he looked at himself in the mirror — a former addict who was looking for a second chance. McDonough recently had become a father and had to clean up and take more responsibility. And with that responsibility came sacrifice. Yet little did McDonough know just how much sacrifice being a hotshot was really asking of him.

Miles Teller and Taylor Kitsch

As we get ever closer to the inevitable, harrowing ending in Yarnell, we get to see the hotshots for what they were – husbands, fathers, boyfriends and members of Prescott Arizona where Duane Steinbrink (played by Jeff Bridges) is not only the wildland division chief for the city of Prescott by day, but also a mighty fine singer at night with his country band called the Rusty Pistols (yes, Jeff Bridges sings for a bit in the movie). The entire hotshot crew celebrates that night as they bask in the glory of saving the ancient juniper tree during the Doce Fire.

The standouts of the movie are Josh Brolin and Miles Teller. Both actors show a broad depth of acting superiority and might. Brolin is fierce as Marsh, the hotshot superior — tough and calculated, yet humanly fragile, especially when confronting his wife Amanda (Jennifer Connelly at her best) with issues related to spending a long time apart. Teller is the rookie hotshot, out to prove himself after being known as junkie for all of his life. He brings a tender, yet sincere face to the hotshots and makes the audience feel like they can relate to him. As Donut is tasked with being the lookout for the hotshots in Yarnell, thus separating him from the other and ultimately sparing his life, Teller draws you in and makes you feel what he is feeling, deep down in your gut.

Miles Teller & Josh Brolin

Overall, Only The Brave is a must see movie, whether you want to honor those who gave up their lives to save others from wildfires, or whether you want to see some of the finest storytelling and acting out this year. I would be surprised if you walk out of that theater and don’t feel like you’ve been sucker punched in the gut from that real life human emotion, precisely the kind the producers and director want you to feel when it’s all said and done.


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

TCFF Indie Film Spotlight: FLORA + Interview with writer/director Sasha Louis Vukovic

One of my favorite film genres is sci-fi mystery. It’s also a genre indie filmmakers have thrived at, which includes some of my favorites such as Never Let Me Go (2012), The Machine (2014), Ex Machina (2015), and one of my faves that screened at Twin Cities Film Fest in 2014, Time Lapse.

One of the most intriguing films that played at TCFF this year is a feature film debut by Canadian filmmaker Sasha Louis Vukovic. I had the pleasure of meeting Sasha as well as lead actress Teresa Marie Doran briefly during the film fest, but we didn’t get to connect for the interview until after.

Thanks to FC blogger Holly Peterson for the review and interview questions!

In the summer of 1929 -at the end of the golden age of exploration- an expedition of Ivy League University Botanists enter an uncharted forest on the North American frontier. Tasked to study the native flora, the students unearth a deadly organism and are soon in a fight with nature itself, where they must use their limited resources to understand, survive and escape the wild and terrifying forest that surrounds them.

FlixChatter review (courtesy of Holly Peterson):

A misunderstood villain is not a new idea. Excessive violence perpetrated at the hands of a gentle being goes back at least as far as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in the 1800s and I am sure I could come up with an earlier example if I weren’t so gosh darn tired right now.

Point is, that although audiences are used to villains being villainous, we also understand that sometimes a villain just doesn’t have the right tools to express their good will. Everyone would get along fine if they could just talk out whatever is bothering them.

But what happens when a dealer of death, a perpetrator of violence, is not just misunderstood, but completely oblivious? What if it isn’t even sentient?

That’s the story Flora chooses to explore.

A group of intrepid young scientists treks out to a secluded forest to study it, only to find that their point of contact has gone missing. As the scientists try to unravel the mystery of this disappearance, they also begin to study the forest, which they gradually realize is more dangerous than they anticipated. Flora builds a sense of creeping dread with an intense score and several one-off scenes of tempers flaring and traps being set that you can’t help but expect to snap whenever the score begins to build again.

My one quibble with the film is that it wants its audience to see that it is diverse and doesn’t trust us to notice without calling it to our attention. This is problematic because it really isn’t that diverse to begin with. Half of the characters are white males. The Asian character goes off on a weird, unnecessary tangent about his heritage. One of the female characters has a really awful emotional speech about how she’s “just a nurse” because “they” wouldn’t let her study. The other female character doesn’t even get to tell her own story – it is told by a man behind her back and is an annoying soapbox moment about how talented and unappreciated she is because other people in her field cannot see beyond her gender. There is nothing wrong with a character facing adversity because of their gender or their race, but when six people are stranded in a forest, that is probably the adversity we should focus on.

Of course, there were a couple “DON’T GO INTO THE DARK CREEPY HOUSE BY YOURSELF” variety moments, but I think that’s kind of par for the course as far as horror/suspense goes. Humans don’t always use their best judgment and for the most part I thought the “what are you thinking!?” moments felt pretty organic.

The actors’ performances are solid and it is a compelling experience to watch a group of people fight for their lives without fighting against anything. Definitely worth a watch!

*images courtesy of IMDb

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Sasha Louis Vukovic is a filmmaker from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. A graduate of the New World School of the Arts in Miami, Florida, and the Chicago College of Performing Arts, in Chicago, Illinois; his 2017 debut feature, Flora, won Best Feature Film at the London International Science Fiction Film Festival, and Best Original Screenplay at the Amsterdam International Film Festival.

FLORA’s DP Eric Irvin and director Sasha Vukovic on set

Q: Where did the idea for the story come from?

The idea for the story came from my personal lack of knowledge about my ecosystem. I was amazed by how little I knew or understood about the Flora that surrounded and interacted with me everyday. So many people come and go through life subsisting and relying on Flora with very little thought of the life of those organisms. I was also fascinated with creating a non-malicious antagonist. A villain with no villainy. Something beautiful and strong.

Q: What was it like shooting a period piece on a budget?

It was excellent fun. And actually a great creative box within which to imagine and create. Every element of the script was written with budget/period in mind. So I actually found it to be quite an interesting puzzle. The period was far more boon than bane.

Q: What was the most challenging part of the shoot?

The most challenging part of the shoot was by far contending with Nature. As the entire film is shot outdoors, we dealt with bugs, rain, heat, wild rivers, storms and dense forests. In many moments it felt as if we as a team were on an expedition into a dense wild forest as well. Thankfully a little less toxic than in the film.

Q: What is it like writing a script about / acting against a non sentient “villain”?

Again, a wonderful challenge. Creating action sequences in which characters are ostensibly running from a stationary pursuer was intersting.

A lot of the film focuses on the eeriness of how silent the forest is, coupled with the mystery of what befell the past humans who inhabited it. That way, suggestion and ambiguity does a great job at allowing the audience to build up a monster in their heads.

Then, the key is creating a believably toxic environment, from which there is an immediate need to escape. Think about the urgency that befalls people during an earthquake or hurricane. Flora is about non-symbiosis, about what happens if we have to run from nature.

Teresa Marie Doran and Dan Lin on the set of FLORA

Q: How did you find your composer?

Our composer Nathan Prillaman is incredible. He was introduced to me by one of our lead actors/executive producers Dan Lin.

Nathan and Dan went to school together as kids and right around the time that we were hunting for our Composer, they ran into one another -for the first time in years- at a dim sum restaurant. It was fantastic luck, and lead to a great creative partnership.


Thanks Sasha for talking to us about your film!

For more info about the making of the film,
check out this article from Sound & Picture magazine:

Check out this behind-the-scenes video of FLORA:

TCFF 2017 Reviews: Little Pink House + The Ballad of Lefty Brown

There aren’t enough days in TCFF to post all the reviews. In fact, I still have a few more TCFF reviews coming your way next week, which will be interspersed with new release reviews such as Only The Brave, The Foreigner and The Snowman.

Thanks to TCFF blog contributor Andy Ellis for these reviews. Definitely something to check out when it’s released near you.

The Ballad of Lefty Brown
review by Andy Ellis

If there is one thing that makes The Ballad of Lefty Brown stand out from other westerns it’s Bill Pullman‘s performance. The story itself is a different take on the revenge-type western, because the underdog takes center stage. Lefty Brown (Pullman) witnesses his partner get murdered in front of him, and vows to find the men responsible.

For a western it’s great. There’s plenty of gun fights and suspense to go around. And there are definitely scenes that allow the supporting cast to shine. Peter Fonda plays Edward Johnson, Brown’s partner, and does a great job with the limited screen time he has. Kathy Baker is great as his wife Laura playing a woman is suddenly dealing her husband’s death, keeping the farm going, and finding out who killed her husband. Tommy Flanagan shines as the hardened Federal Marshal Tom Harrah and a longtime friend of Johnson and Brown, who is still trying to overcome a tragedy from his past. Jim Caviezel and Diego Josef also have great supporting parts that make for very memorable scenes.

This, however, is Pullman’s film. If there ever was role that would should garner him some sort of acclaim from critics and awards voters, this would be it. He transforms into Brown, a sidekick with a who no one sees as someone who is capable of successfully avenging his partner’s death. He’s got a bad limp so he’s not always the smoothest at moving, may be mentally slow, and other peculiarties as well.

He overcomes all of that, with a few missteps along the way, with a determination to get justice for his friend. Even with everyone telling him someone else will take care of it, he’s going to get it done or die trying. Everyone can come along for the ride if they want.

Yes, the story is about revenege. But it’s also about one man with a really big heart. And despite all the obstacles in his way won’t even let the possibility of death get in the way of getting justice for his partner, a man who gave him everything.


Little Pink House
Review by Andy Ellis

Academy Award-nominated actress Catherine Keener (Get Out, 40-Year-Old-Virgin) may find herself in the running again with Little Pink House. Adapted from the book Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage by Jeff Benedict, it’s centered around Susette Kelo (Keener) and the events that led up to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in the Kelo vs. City of New London. The decision allowed the government to bulldoze neighborhood property for the benefit of a multibillion-dollar corporation.

The story consists of many characters, but there are two that stand out the most: Keener and Jeanne Tripplehorn who plays Charlotte Wells. She’s hired by the governor of Connecticut to convince the citizens of New London to let the government buy their homes. Tripplehorn delivers a great performance as Wells who is undeterred by any obstacles put in her way, but you still really hope she fails.

Keener, who resembles the real-life Kelo pretty well, delivers a great performance of a woman starting over. She just wants to be able to live in her home, but when Wells and the government try taking that away she’s determined, passionate, and rarely loses her composure.

These two women lead a talented supporting cast including Aaron Douglas, Miranda Frigon, and Callum Keith Rennie. They and many others all contribute special moments to the film.

The fact that this is a true story makes it that much more powerful. It’s a story about defiance, courage, and hope. Despite its outcome, this is a movie that have you cheering from your seat.


Have you seen these films? Well, what did you think?

 

TCFF Indie Film Spotlight: DARCY + Interview with filmmakers Heidi Philipsen-Meissner & Jon Russell Cring

I’ve mentioned several times that my favorite parts about covering Twin Cities Film Fest is about discovering new films, filmmakers and talents. Well, one of my favorite discoveries in all three fronts comes courtesy of this coming-of-age drama, DARCY.

Gus Birney, the young starlet of TV’s “The Mist” (based on a story by Stephen King) is making her feature film debut in the independent narrative feature DARCY. DARCY marks the first narrative feature film debut for co-directors Heidi Philipsen-Meissner and Jon Russell Cring. In co-directing DARCY, both John and Heidi made it a priority to consider both gender viewpoints when interpreting the script and its characters’ behaviors, another factor not lost by the film’s cast. Most of the production’s crew was carried by women below and above the line. The film’s ensemble cast includes: Johnathan Tchaikovsky (“Keep The Change”), Paulina Singer (“The Intern”), David Thornton (“The Notebook”) and Bernadette Quigley (TV’s “Mr. Robot”). The 17-year-old newcomer is the daughter of veteran New York actors Reed Birney (Netflix’s “House of Cards”) and Constance Shulman (Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black”).

My review of the film:

Billed as “A girl’s awakening in the sunlight of harsh reality,” DARCY is a coming-of-age tale about an innocent teenage girl living with her parents in a seedy motel on the edge town who meets a stranger that changes her world.

The film presented the contrast between the unwholesome surrounding of her family business and Darcy’s innocence and being so sexually ‘green.’ Casting is so important in any film, but especially a film like this where it hinges on the believability of the protagonist. Fortunately Gus Birney did a fine job and you’re immediately taken with her as she attempts to navigate her life without much guidance from her parents. We see the world through Darcy’s eyes, and frankly in this world there’s really no good role model for a young woman. Even her mother at times behaves inappropriately with seductive male costumers coming to her motel. One thing her mom said to her is one every teen should take to heart however… “Don’t be in such a rush to be grown up. It’s not what you think it’ll be.”

The film gets more interesting with the arrival of a stranger… a brooding young writer Luke whom Darcy takes an immediate liking to. I like the moment of their meet-up, innocently enough when she was working the front desk and he came down to borrow a pencil sharpener. The chemistry between the two leads, Birney and Johnathan Tchaikovsky, is palpable. It’s fun to watch them being drawn to each other but each hesitate to get too close. The film takes its time to reveal just what’s really going on with Luke, which adds to the mystery.

Sustaining the motel is the practice of taking in occupants who have until only recently been incarcerated, an arrangement that Darcy’s parents have arranged with the Department of Corrections for a price. Naturally there are unsavory scenes in this seedy operation, but they’re not gratuitous. I have to say I’m not fond of those scenes but they’re there to serve a purpose, to fully understand the world Darcy lives in. Kudos to co-director Heidi Philipsen-Meissner who had to wear multiple hats as a performer as well in the role of Toni. I also think the scenes between Darcy and Luke, the heart of the story, is beautifully-shot and acted.

The film takes place over one Summer. It’s an honest, realistic portrait of an innocent young woman on the brink of adulthood. Don’t expect a neat resolution tied with a big red bow, because often times, life just doesn’t turn out that way either.

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Q: Congrats on your debut feature film! What’s the inspiration behind this project and how much of the story was inspired by real life?

JON: I think when you start from real life and then expand upon it you can find a really cool alchemy in writing. I lived in a motel for over a year and my wife and co-writer has brought a lot of her personal family experiences. Then you stop judging your characters and see where they take you.

Q: Looks like you changed the name from This Is Nowhere to Darcy, what’s the reasoning for the title change?

HEIDI: I think it was just part of our journey along the way. When I started making this first feature, it was with the idea of making it for a super micro budget on a weekend with friends in the biz… and, thus, the title THIS IS NOWHERE felt especially real… almost like a rallying cry… and had to do with the location of where our main character, Darcy, lived and the place that she was in the world: Nowhere. But as the journey of making this film continued, and I worked with one of my mentors Larry Jackson (Mystic Pizza) and Jeff Dowd (aka The Dude) in getting it out there to test audiences prior to completing the final edit, it became evident that the title THIS IS NOWHERE, did not fully encompass the center of the story. Darcy may have felt like she was “nowhere,” and we wanted to take the audiences on that journey through “nowhere,” but, truly, in the end, it was about DARCY… this girl on the cusp of womanhood, who would most definitely not stay “nowhere” in her life.

Gus Birney as Darcy

Q: What makes DARCY different than other coming-of-age films or those dealing with youth growing up?

JON: I grew up on great coming of age films but there always seemed to be this escapism of trying to create your own world outside of adult influence. Sort of the Charlie Brown syndrome. My experience growing up is that your life and decisions are dominated by those older than you. Everybody in this film is trying to get by, but it all comes from a self-centered place. That tends to lead to dark conclusions. Darcy isn’t a simple story, but neither is life.

HEIDI: The majority of coming-of-age that I have seen, i.e. Stand By Me, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Anne of Green Gables…. Have either been more about the coming of a young male’s life, or very rose-colored and about the coming-of-age about a young female as directed, editing and created by a male. Those are very different eyes and things you focus on… the male gaze versus the female gaze. And, honestly, in many ways, I often most thought about the story of “Lolita,” only we’ve completely turned Lolita on its head and made it about seeing the world through Lolita’s eyes if we could.
Further, this film does not steer clear of those unfortunate experiences that youth sometimes witnesses when the responsible adult is nowhere to be found. (If anything, it’s a wake-up call to our society that we are not connecting to our young ones and losing our sense of connection to those in our communities who don’t necessarily “fit in.”)

Many films try to do the opposite – pretend that all is perfect in the world in spite of life’s hardships. But this one looks at the resiliency of a girl who refuses to be a passive bystander in her own life, even though she has to behave like one to keep the adults in her world from getting on her case even more.

On the set of Darcy with Gus Birney

Q: How did you end up collaborating together as directors and what has the experience been like?

JON: We admired each other’s singular creative projects so collaboration made sense. It also is a story that needs multiple voices, male and female, to tell it. It has been a fabulous process.

HEIDI: In what the big film industry meccas of NYC and LA consider “nowhere” – upstate NY – Jon and I saw talent in each other and the drive and passion to want to do more. Though we are both Type A personalities in our own ways, we found that the fact that we were bringing two different genders together as directors to create the fully equal perspective in our film made the collaboration all the more exciting, fulfilling and eye-opening, while allowing both of our voices to be heard.

Q: Heidi, you also had a supporting role in the film. How does acting in the film help you tell the story as a filmmaker?

HEIDI: When you get into the skin of one of a complex character like, TONI, who is, in effect, both a prostitute, but also a mother and wife, you have to do a lot of research grounded in reality to understand her. You just get so much closer to the creative, evolutionary process of exploring the emotions, the forces driving her, as well as what is holding her back.

You can’t fake those emotions – at least, I can’t. And understanding TONI –who was, in essence, a “Darcy” without a safety net who never left “nowhere,” but fell in through hard times, sex abuse, violence, drug use, probably mental illness, desperation and, ultimately, only had one thing keeping her going: the love for her child, Peanut—was a huge part of unlocking the key to the rest of the characters for me as a director.

Heidi Philipsen as Toni

When I act and direct, this experience does two things for me: First, it keeps me grounded in what my fellow actors have to go through and ensures that I respect their process (because I am going through the same thing), it bonds me closer to them, and, second, it gets my head in the game as a director as to what the story is all about… grounding me in the truth of the imaginary circumstances.

And – okay, I lied – there are three reasons – lastly, it enables me to do something with all of that emotion and energy I am processing as a director. When you are a director, it is more of an analytical process than emotional… and I love being able to go through the full journey to bond with my fellow actors, while steering the “directorial ship” as well.

Q: I’m really drawn by the relationship between Darcy and Luke. Could you tell us a bit about casting Gus and Johnathan specifically?

HEIDI: First off, I have to give props to our Casting Director Caroline Sinclair – I met her while coordinating and working with her on several features prior to producing and directing my own and I never dreamed that she would say “yes.” But when I approached her with the script, she loved it from the beginning and was one of my biggest supporters as both a producer and director.

Caroline is the one who said, “I think you REALLY have a special script, here. Don’t rush this. Give it time and when you are ready, let’s cast it with some great actors.” And she did just that.

Finding “Darcy,” was no easy task. She had to be able to portray that very special age of 15… you know, we are different, much different, developmentally at 15 than we are… even a year later..

And even when my Executive Producer Kathryn McDermott was urging me, “Don’t cast a child. It’ll be brutal on our schedule, our budget and the expectations of working with child labor laws,” I couldn’t help but see something in Gus that we hadn’t seen in the 18-year-olds coming in. It was that naïve innocence, but also that “I’m becoming an adult and I will conquer the world!”

We girls do think that way – you know—until, unfortunately, as we get older and we are told that we are only special in how we help to define a man in our lives.

I also want to give props to Tracy Nicole Cring… she is the Co-Writer, Director of Photography and Muse of Darcy. I believe, deep down, that she is the original Darcy… Tracy, Jon and I had gone over and over in our creative visualization of art works and styles of the way we saw Darcy.

And so, when Gus walked in, tall, lanky, a bit like a dear-in-headlights, on the one hand, somehow evoking an old English painting, like John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott, yet fully modern with an undercurrent of tough-girl faith in her dreams, maybe it was subconscious from all the prep we had done, but something just “clicked.” That was it. She WAS Darcy.

As an aside, Kathryn McDermott, who teaches Production Management at the Motion Picture Institute of Michigan, and was my teacher and mentor in film school, tells me that she now has a “caveat” when it comes to teaching her students. The case of Gus Birney and “Darcy” is the only one, she says, where it went “right;” otherwise, she still advises against hiring children on your first feature on a low budget.

In the case of Johnathan Tchaikovsky, who plays “Luke,” that was truly magically, as well. We had done several castings by that time and were, originally, looking for a character with a southern accent, most likely from Tennessee, and the rest of the look – i.e. cowboy hat, boots, torn jeans….

And then, right at the very end, one of the last to be seen, in walks this guy from the Bronx, who reminded me of a young Robert DeNiro, yet had something very zen like Richard Gere in “A Master and a Gentleman.” I’ve never experienced it until that day – this actor literally came in and TOOK that role. He owned it. There was no one else who could do it or WANTED it as much as he did.

And I’m happy to report that both actors were so committed from day ONE. They never backed down or gave us any reason to regret casting them.

JON: Gus Birney is a star. When she came in we knew there was something truly special there. Jonathan reminds of me of a young Brando and their chemistry together was palpable. These characters are struggling with appetites and they break your heart. Their relationship is complicated and evolves and I am also struck by the depth these actors brought.

Q: The nature photography is really beautiful, it’s as if it’s a deliberate juxtaposition to the seedy motel setting. Where’s the filming location?

HEIDI: Again, that was a deliberate action. In partnering with Tracy, our Director of Photography, and all of the creative visuals that we had accumulated to emulate a certain look, we came up with this idea of making the interiors feel so uninviting, cramped, crowded, dreary, lonely, even a bit frightening… while the outdoors would be the opposite: inviting, free, full of life, hope, peace of mind. I have to give kudos to the entire team for making that happen.

We shot the film on location at the Catskill Mountain Lodge in Palenville, NY and in downtown Catskill, NY. Gorgeous – gorgeous countryside there.

JON: We shot in the Catskill region of New York. Tracy Cring as Cinematographer wanted that feeling of two worlds. Where Darcy lives is so completely different from the beauty once you exit the motel. The grass is definitely greener outside.

Q: Lastly, this film is brutally honest and doesn’t have a perfect ending tied w/ a big red bow. What is the main thing you like people to take away from the film?

HEIDI: Not sure if you read my blog in the Huffington Post this past week, but that pretty much sums it up. For me, as a women director, I did not want a “happy bow” ending – and that’s certainly not what Jon and Tracy wrote as co-writers.
As an aside, I will admit that we DID try it after being advised from outside sources – re-edited the entire ending and made it “happy,” –but it didn’t work; our test audiences were too smart and knew that it just didn’t feel right. They rejected it.

And these days, in the wake of the Weinstein sexual harassment cases, I guess you could call it a disruptive innovation statement very true to current times: We women are not going to pretend that our world is rosy when it is not. And the men who respect and love us don’t want us to. At some point, something needs to be said about how we are forced to keep a smile on our face while enduring harassment and abuse and discrimination. But that means facing the flaws and the struggle NOW.

Darcy’s future may very well be rosy – but not just yet.

JON: I really believe it’s a message of empathy. Caring is a political act nowadays. When you live with these extremely flawed people I hope you can feel something for someone who is struggling. It’s easy to box people up and say this is all they will ever be. This film turns those conventions around. As far as the ending, I find tragedy doesn’t come obviously. We survive our own mistakes.


It was so much fun meeting Heidi, Jon and Johnathan at their hotel. It’s palpable Heidi and John had an effortless rapport as they could practically finish each other’s sentences. As we’re about to wrap up on our interview, Johnathan arrived from the airport! What a lovely bunch, definitely one of the highlights covering TCFF for me this year.

Thanks Heidi & Jon for chatting with me!

For more info about the film, visit
darcymovie.com

Twin Cities Film Fest 2017 has wrapped! Check out the list of winners!

It’s one for the books!

The 8th annual fun-filled cinematic marathon has officially wrapped last night with yet another festive closing night party.

Pardon the lack of post yesterday as it was literally an extremely jam-packed day and I’ve also been hit with a bit of a cold and cough. Every single TCFF staff and volunteers pretty much ran on adrenaline around the 11-day film fest, but hey, time still flew when you’re having a great time!

The best part of covering TCFF is discovering new films, filmmakers, and talents. And boy, just in the last two days of the fest, I saw three of my top 5 films…

The three films may seem very different on the outset in terms of setting and plot, but they actually have similar themes of letting go of the past, growing up and celebrating life for what it is. The female-led Instructions For Living, directed by Sarah Heinss based on a script by Heinss and Morgan Owens, deservedly won the Audience Award for narrative feature.

Writer/Director/Actress Sarah Heinss, Writer/Actress Morgan Owens, Actor Drew Paslay, and Producer Maggie Hart were at the red carpet, interviewed by our host Amanda Day, on the first screening of the film on Saturday 10/21.


Two of my fave films starred this year’s Indie Vision Breakthrough Award recipient Josh Wiggins, who’s absolutely phenomenal in both films, playing the teenage son of Matt Bomer in Walking Out and J.K. Simmons in The Bachelors. This 18-year-old young man certainly showed an incredible range as well as screen presence. I think people will hear more of him in the future and I’m glad to say I first saw Josh at TCFF and got to talk to him a bit at the after party.

Here he is being interviewed by one of our awesome hosts Rachel Weber before the Walking Out screening:

On the festival’s closing day, TCFF also honored actress, and Minnesota native, Rachael Leigh Cook (who’s the lead in the modern adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream) with the festival’s coveted North Star Award.

 

On Saturday I started the day with learning from great filmmakers!

Two of those filmmakers’ films are one of the finalists for Best Feature Film award, Alex and Andrew Smith for Walking Out and Kurt Voelker for The Bachelors.

TCFF announced its 2017 award winners Saturday evening, recognizing films in ten top categories. The 11-day event showcased more than 140 titles — 60% of which were directed by women — and facilitated a broader conversation around the social cause of addiction (our theme for this year’s Changemaker Series)

The full list of 2017 award winners:

  • Best Feature Film: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” directed by Martin McDonagh.
  • Best Documentary: “Human Flow,” directed by Ai Weiwei
  • Best Short Film: “Cat Killer,” directed by Wes Jones.
  • Audience Award, Narrative: “Instructions For Living,” directed by Sarah Heinss (Runner-Up: “Aquarians,” directed by Michael M. McGuire)
  • Audience Award, Non-Fiction: “Coyote,” directed by Thomas Simmons (Runner-Up: “Victor’s Last Class,” directed by Brendan Brandt)
  • Audience Award, Short Film: “Hearts Want,” directed by Jason P. Schumacher (Runner-Up: “Wet Dreams: One Woman’s Chance at Touching Gold,” directed by Darren Coyle)
  • Indie Vision Breakthrough Award — Narrative: Madelyn Deutch (screenplay, “The Year of Spectacular Men”)
  • Indie Vision Breakthrough Award — Non-Fiction: “8 Borders, 8 Days,” directed by Amanda Bailly
  • Indie Vision Breakthrough Award – Best Performance: Josh Wiggins (“The Bachelors” and “Walking Out”)
  • Fun Is Good Bill Murray Comedic Shorts Award: “Lady Lillian,” directed by Amber Johnson
  • North Star Award for Excellence: Rachael Leigh Cook

TCFF 2017 Changemaker Award: Lexi Reed Holtum, executive director and lobbyist of the Steve Rummler Hope Network, for her work advocating on behalf of Steve’s Law and the 2015 state funding that enabled first responders to have the resources they need to implement the law.

Congrats to ALL of the TCFF 2017 winners!!

You can watch the video of the awards ceremony on FB by clicking the image below (the LIVE video cannot be embedded here)

Of course THIS was the biggest surprise of the night… at least for me!

Apparently the TCFF Award Finalists were announced on Friday 10/27 afternoon, but I didn’t check it until much later. To be a finalist amongst these great short films is just unbelievable… I’m still pinching myself!!

Best Short Film: “Afterword,” directed by Boris Seewald; “Cat Killer,” directed by Wes Jones; “Hearts Want,” directed by Jason P. Schumacher; “Resolutions,” directed by Tamara Fisch; and “Sundogs,” directed by Elizabeth Chatelain.

We didn’t win Best Short but as you can see in the picture above, we did win the Audience Award, woot woot!! That’s a second one for our director Jason P. Schumacher, his short film Sad Clown won the Audience Award in 2014.

Most of our cast/crew reunited on the TCFF red carpet on Thursday 10/26

I was a nervous wreck on the red carpet as you can see below… but hey I survived 😉 Check out Jason’s blue hair for Halloween, inspired by X-Men’s Mystique!

I’m so thrilled to have my dear friend & Hearts Want‘s lead actress Sam Simmons in town for the main TCFF premiere! She flew in from L.A. just hours before the red carpet and looked stunning as ever. So fun seeing Sam reunited w/ her co-stars Peter Christian Hansen and Noah Gillet last Thursday. I gotta say our short film’s cast are VERY easy on the eyes aren’t they? And they’re all so darn talented and fun to work with, too!

 


Here are some of the pics from Hearts Want‘s red carpet on Thursday night. Thanks to Dallas Smith, TCFF’s lead photographer for some of the photos.

See the recap of TCFF festivities in images
(again thanks Dallas & team) in Smugmug.


Well the film fest may be over but I’ve still got a few more reviews I’ll be posting in the coming weeks (Ruin Me, Flora, Walking Out, The Bachelors, etc.) as well as my interviews with the filmmakers from Darcy, actor Adam Ambruso, and more!). For a daily recap with reviews/interviews, etc., check out the TCFF page.

We’ll be back for TCFF 2018 next October!

 

TCFF 2017 Reviews: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri + Blue Balloons

It’s just two days left in TCFF and I’m playing catch-up with posting reviews! You might’ve noticed I’ve got to post a couple of things in a day at times… too many films too little time (both to watch and to review!)

Well, below are couple of reviews from Day 6 and 7.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
review by Andy Ellis

It’s described as a dark comedy, but writer and director Martin McDonagh’s newest film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, has a lot more to offer. The film, led by Frances McDormand who plays Mildred who causes some small town chaos by using three billboards to ask local officials why they haven’t found her daughter’s murderer and rapist yet.

A subject such as this must be treaded upon carefully, and it’s done very well here. The humor comes from the fact that none of the characters hold anything back. Mildred has has no problem telling the local priest how she really feels, or anyone else for that matter. Sam Rockwell shines as Dixon,  a small-minded Sheriff’s Deputy with a short temper ends up costing him dearly in one key scene. If there’s a character who keeps his calm the best in the story it’s Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, the main target of Mildred’s billboard messages.

It’s also a film with a lot of heart in it as well, and it helps round out the characters. One scene causes causes Mildred to switch moods so fast you’ll realize that beneath that pissed-off no-nonsense barrier is a mother that just wants her daughter back. And this role may even earn McDormond some awards recognition, and then same goes for Rockwell.

The rest of the cast rounds out the story pretty well, too, with each one getting their own chance to shine—and they do. Lucas Hodges plays Mildred’s son Robbie who isn’t all on board with his mom’s methods, and Abbie Cornish plays the Sheriff’s wife Anne. Caleb Landry Jones has great scenes as Red Welby the owner of the billboards, and Peter Dinklage has a very small but memorable role. John Hawkes plays Charlie, Mildred’s ex-husband, and Samara Weaving steals the show a couple times as Penelope, Charlie’s young girlfriend.

This film is a great mix of everything, and throws more than a few a surprises in there as well. The acting is superb and it’ll leave you wanting more. Now if only more films would grab a hold of you like this one did.


BLUE BALLOONS
Review by Ruth Maramis

This is one of the films with a Minnesota connection that I actually didn’t know much about. So I pretty much going in blindly about the story, other than the fact that the story deals with a terminal illness.

Right from the start, this film feels deeply personal. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but Blue Balloons is an honest, realistic story about a family gripping with the complexity of cancer. Written, directed and produced by Emily Troedson, who also acts as the eldest daughter Claire of the Kippson family, the story is told from her perspective. I like that it paints the day-to-day life of the family in a matter-of-fact, candid way… especially in the way Claire is questioning her faith and her existence in a devout Lutheran community.

Chari and Emily in Blue Balloons

The film’s pacing is a bit slow and really tries your patience at times. I have to say some of the acting by the supporting cast aren’t convincing (crying with no tears visible??), but overall it’s a well-crafted piece with genuinely poignant moments as well as interesting artistic choices. I wish there were more mother-daughter relationship being explored here, though I think the dynamic of the family is portrayed pretty well.

Chari Eckmann as Joanne

I connected most with Emily’s character and she did an amazing job juggling so many roles in the film. Being a daughter who dealt with an ill mother at a young age, there are parts that was hard to watch for me. I also have to commend Chari Eckmann‘s performance (as the cancer-stricken Joanne), her emotional transformation and deterioration throughout the film is believable.

Glad to see so many talented writer/director like Emily having their films at TCFF! I sure hope she continues to make films in the future.


There’s more films and festivities to be had at TCFF!

 

TCFF 2017 Interviews: TWIN CITIES’ writer/director David Ash and RUIN ME’s actor Alex Galick


It’s already Day 9 of the film fest! Whew, time sure flies when you’re having fun! Science, Relationship, Horror … definitely there’s something for everyone in today’s lineup!

We had the privilege of getting the insights from the people involved with two of the feature films playing today, Twin Cities and Ruin Me. So check ’em out below:

“Salvaging a marriage takes time and trust, two things that John and Emily no longer have. Emily is a writer with a career threatening case of writer’s block and deadlines approaching. The pressure to finish her novel grows when John sinks into depression and quits his job … right before their first baby is due.

As they head toward a mutual meltdown, John is given a terminal diagnosis that forces him to reassess his life and attempt to save his marriage—before it’s too late. However, inner peace proves elusive, the marriage might be too far gone, and John’s life may not be what it seems.”

At a glance, a film dealing with a troubled marriage, wife suffering from writer’s block, depressed husband haunted by his past, it sounds like a downer. But Twin Cities is actually a pretty entertaining film with plenty of humorous moments. It’s actually a lot funnier than you think, but also has a lot of poignant moments and spiritual matters that would make you ponder about your own life. Plus there’s also an interesting twist you won’t see coming. 

David Ash on set

Twin Cities is actually a sequel to David Ash‘s feature film debut 2021 (which premiered at TCFF a couple of years ago). Clarence Wethern and Bethany Ford were both in 2021, and they’re both excellent in the lead roles in this one as well. They both balance the dramatic and humorous moments wonderfully, Clarence has such a natural comic timing that’s fun to watch.

Clarence and Bethany in a still from TWIN CITIES

The leading man of my short film Heart’s Want, Peter Christian Hansen, also have a supporting role in this film. I can’t say too much about his character without giving too much away of the plot though, but he’s a terrific addition to the cast. Hearts Want‘s director Jason P. Schumacher also produced this film and did the extras casting as well.

Q: What would you say are the main themes of the film?

Q: When you finished ‘2021’ did you already have a plan/concept to make a follow-up to that?

Q: Did you have a lot of prep work with your two lead actors despite having done a film together before?

Q: Tell me a bit about your decision to cast Peter Hansen in the role of David?


THANK YOU David Ash for chatting with me about TWIN CITIES!

There is a TCFF screening tonight at 8:45 that’s sold out, but there’s a RUSH LINE so if you get there in time you just might be able to see this film on the big screen.


Thanks Laura Schaubschlager for this interview article with actor ALEX GALICK from Ruin Me:

Horror movies can be polarizing. It seems like there are either hardcore fans of the genre, or people who are too scared to watch even the cheesiest of slasher films, with very little middle ground. However, independent film Ruin Me (written by Trysta A. Bissett and Preston DeFrancis) has the potential to appeal to both sides. Since its premiere in August, the movie has received overwhelmingly positive responses from audiences at nearly twenty film festivals (including London’s FrightFest and Los Angeles’s Screamfest-the longest running horror film festival in the U.S.), several nominations and awards, and a current IMDB rating of 7.8 (an exceptional score for a horror movie).

I had the opportunity to chat with Alex Galick, Ruin Me cast member and local actor, to discuss the film, his involvement in it, and the horror genre as a whole.

While on the surface, Ruin Me is a traditional horror film with familiar tropes, there’s more to (what Alex and others involved in the film call) this “sophisticated slasher” than meets the eye. “It definitely pays homage to the genre,” Alex explains. “But the focus is less on the jump scares and gore and more on mystery and character.” Despite the story taking place at an extreme event that is essentially a horror movie-themed camping trip, the movie itself is more of a psychological thriller. The main character, Alexandra (Marcienne Dwyer), is not just the stereotypical “final girl,” but a multifaceted character with a complex background. “[She] has a checkered past that may or may not be involved with what’s happening,” Alex hints.

As for Alex’s character (listed only as “The Skinny Kid” on IMDB), you’ll have to see the movie to find out more, as going into detail might give away some spoilers. “What is it Jeff Sessions says? ‘I plead the fifth,'” Alex laughs. “I can’t give you the skinny on The Skinny Kid.” It sounds like his portrayal of this mystery character will be quite the performance, though; while the filmmakers were originally thinking of casting someone from Muskegon, Michigan (where Ruin Me was filmed), they were so impressed with Alex’s reel that they decided to go with him instead, even though it meant having him regularly make the nearly 9-hour drive for filming.

Ruin Me isn’t Alex’s first venture into horror. His first professional film role was in the 2013 thriller Fractured (starring Vinnie Jones and Callum Blue), and more recently, he wrapped on the upcoming horror comedy Ahockalypse, which was filmed here in Minnesota. While he isn’t necessarily a horror fan himself, he’s developed an appreciation for the genre through his work in it. “I think horror has an amazing fanbase,” he says. “The people who love to watch horror love it in a way I don’t think other genres enjoy…I have a great respect for the roller coasters these films take us on. They create visceral experiences, and that’s translatable, I think, across cultural boundaries.”

Based on initial responses, it sounds like Ruin Me will be a similar cinematic roller coaster experience. While the film may subvert some tropes, the writers were still very loyal to the horror genre, spending nearly five years researching and putting serious effort into making this something die-hard horror fans will appreciate.

Those of you in or near the Twin Cities have two chances to catch Ruin Me during TCFF at the Showplace ICON in St. Louis Park:

Thursday, October 26th at 10:15 PM and
Saturday, October 28th at 11:00 PM.

Get your tickets here


What’s in store for Day 10!

There are still a slew of great films playing in the last two days of TCFF! Some are starring Oscar winners (J.K. Simmons in The Bachelors) and Oscar-worthy films such as Darkest Hour (starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill).

Stay tuned for even more daily TCFF coverage!


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TCFF Reviews – ‘Legends of the Road’ doc + various short films in Comedy, Thriller, Global Perspective & Documentary short blocks

We have passed the halfway mark! What a hectic, whirlwind week it has been. I spoke to TCFF Managing Director Bill Cooper the other day and he said something about all the staff having ‘festival brain’ and that’s definitely how I feel. I’ve watched so many films it’s kind of a blur!

Thankfully I have awesome guest bloggers to help me out… such as Sarah Johnson who’s helped me with reviews of the short films, as well as the Legends of the Road documentary. Being a huge baseball fan, that’s the one Sarah couldn’t wait to see!

So here are her reviews:

Full disclosure: I am a big baseball fan and love the game’s history so am not the most unbiased person to review “Legends of the Road” and therefore I will not be giving it a rating. However, as soon as I saw this movie on the schedule I knew I wanted to see it. As a reviewer often has to see and objectively review movies that may not be appealing to them personally, I felt the opposite could also be true.

The film itself is well done, directed and edited by award-winning documentarian Gary Thomsen, who also happens to be a former Seattle teacher. It tells the extraordinary story of Thomsen’s students from Chief Sealth High School in Washington and their classroom project: to uncover the history of barnstorming, a baseball phenomenon from the early 20th century where all black teams traveled throughout the country playing in money tournaments against local white town teams for a cut of the gate. The project then culminated in a summer long re-creation of this era with a 5,100 mile, 71 day trip done on bicycle while playing 33 games along the way.

These ballplayers (some may have heard of the most famous ones including Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson because they also played in the more well known Negro Leagues) helped dispel the notion of white supremacy, not just on the field, but in society, leading Martin Luther King to say that “they laid down the first plank in the civil rights movement.” This is where the film really shines – the story is about much more than baseball. Former Negro Leaguer Buck O’Neil, who came to national prominence with his vivid descriptions of black baseball in Ken Burns’s PBS documentary “Baseball,” is also one of the stars of this film. “This is about the history of our country,” O’Neil says at one point.

One of the other large aspects to the film is another thing that is not new: adults underestimating what kids can accomplish and bureaucrats not in classrooms dictating how students should be taught. “This is not part of the curriculum, nor is it part of anything I’ve seen in vocational education. I don’t understand why you want to do this,” June Rimmer, the chief academic officer for Seattle Public Schools, said. I’d like to check back with the students involved in this project in 20 years and hear their memories on their breadth of work that was “not part of the curriculum.”

For this project, students conducted all of the research, honed public speaking skills to make presentations to companies in the hopes of securing sponsors for the trip, managed logistics of food, lodging and game preparation…as well as shot footage to be used in the documentary. There were two distinct groups of students involved with the trip – those on the logistics and production side and the baseball players who rode bicycles from town to town (often covering more than 100 miles per day) and then played in games throughout the trip. “It was incredibly challenging logistically,” Thomsen says at one point. Gee, you think? At one point I began to wonder if young people could have been the only ones to pull this off – the movie doesn’t mention anything about how (if at all) the bike riders went about training for this adventure. Perhaps that’s something you don’t need to worry about when you’re in high school – oh, to be young again.

The film is very comprehensive in covering all aspects of the project, from the origination of the idea to the celebration at the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City at the end of the trip. Just because I’m a fan of baseball history, the one thing that left me wanting more was the end product of all of the research – where did all of that information end up? I’m assuming it was sent to the Baseball Hall of Fame but even a mention of this at the end of the film would have helped. Baseball fans will certainly appreciate “Legends of the Road” but other audiences should also enjoy this addition to our nation’s ongoing conversation on race and education.

Bob Kendrick, the president of the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, being interviewed by TCFF host Amanda Day

SHORT FILMS reviews

Humbug

“Humbug,” the short film highlighting those with no holiday spirit, will appeal to those who greet that time of the year with dread. As I am one of those people, I appreciated the premise of this seven minute piece. When Scarlet (Jessee Foudray) crushes a gingerbread cookie offered by her peppy neighbor Betty (Milly Sanders, also the writer), Betty decides to embark on a series of steps worthy of a horror film to change her mind. “We’ll have to do this the hard way,” Betty calmly tells Scarlet.

The scenario is well played by both actresses and the mix of over-the-top Christmas imagery and ghastly bodily functions will satisfy those who have had enough December cheer to last a lifetime. The ending was a little too convenient for me but overall this short film is an entertaining one.

Girl Meets Roach

I have reviewed full length and short films for the Twin Cities Film Fest for several years and sometimes I come across a piece of work that I’m not sure if it was meant to be reviewed. Such is the case with “Girl Meets Roach,” the 17 minute short film by brother and sister team Alison Zatta (Writer and Lead Actress) and Christopher Zatta (Director). In his bio, Christopher writes that he formed King Fish Productions as a platform to write and direct independent material.

I can only hope that they are using “Girl Meets Roach” as practice to hone their skills. The premise and execution of this story are entirely cliché – girl gets dumped by her boyfriend, we cut to obligatory scenes of her listening to old messages while moping around her house, the best friend comes over, the jilted girlfriend plans revenge…it just goes on. I appreciate the role of film festivals to support new work by independent artists and hope “Girl Meets Roach” was merely a practice turn to get experience in this field.

Afterword

Describing “Afterword,” Director and Co-Writer Boris Seewald explains it as “A film about loneliness, self-discovery and one person’s pursuit of glory. It examines not only the wider journey of appreciation, but also the need to be heard by those who love and loved you, and the need to be heard by yourself.” Lofty goals for a ten minute short film.

What follows is a woman (Marama Corlett) bringing you into her world of philosophical ramblings on…well, pretty much anything. (One line in this film is “if you are a bird, watch where you poop.” I am not making this up.) The only highlight is the performance by Corlett – with her pageboy haircut, red beret and piercing stare she admirably draws you into her stream of consciousness. The rest of it still has me baffled.

Tagati

“Tagati” Director Bill Haley is upfront about his short film being a sort of trailer for a feature film based on the concept presented at the Twin Cities Film Fest. “The Sopranos” in a roadside diner is how I thought of the opening scene, as Aja (LaTonya Grant) meets with a hitman named only as Badass (Mark Simms) to do away with her husband.

It’s a peek into a stylish film noir thriller complete with pulsating music and expert direction. Trailers are supposed to get audiences interested and excited to see the full length movie – this piece certainly succeeded.

Marieke

“It’s not just a piece of cheese.” While there have been negative consequences about the advent of the internet and social media, one of the fun things has been the ability for people skilled in a particular niche to connect with others who share their passion. Such is the case in “Marieke,” the seven minute short film by Director/Editor Thomas Johnson, who profiles acclaimed Dutch gouda cheesemaker Marieke Penterman from Thorp, Wisconsin.

I am not a cheese connoisseur but I can relate to one’s appreciation for the finer aspects of a certain hobby or profession. (I am a big baseball fan and could spend all day talking about it.) Penterman cheerfully takes you into her cheese adventures, explaining how her cows have personality and the process that goes into hand painting a skin around the yellowish rounds to preserve it but still let it breathe. “Marieke” was a refreshing look into her world.

Science Olympiad

High school was a long time ago for me so watching films like “Science Olympiad” give me hope for the next generation. It not only features teenage students, it was also made by a teenage student, 17 year old Elise Tsai from the Twin Cities. She focuses on an extra curricular activity in which teams of 15 students compete in 23 events involving science, technology and engineering. The film focuses on Mounds View High School (a suburb of Minneapolis) and their incredibly successful team – winner of 11 state championships and five consecutive top ten finishes in the nation.

“You have to spend a lot of time looking up parts, trying them out and if it doesn’t work you have to try it again,” one student says. Seems like the work you need to put into anything in life to succeed. (Indeed, at the end of the film it notes that one of the participants is going to be studying Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.) Although their creations are fascinating, the kids are really the stars of the show and their positive energy and enthusiasm is infectious. As one student says, “at its core, it’s just fun.”

Double talk

What a delight this film was on a familiar but rarely highlighted craft! In “Double Talk,” director Jessica Bernstein-Wax features the work of Spanish actor Joan Pera, who has worked as an onscreen dubber for famous actors, most notably Woody Allen. Often denigrated as the ugly stepchild in the film industry, it’s clear Pera takes pride in his craft, especially in the scenes with his son who also works in the same line of work.

He and his son enjoy a friendly rivalry when the father is called in to dub some of his son’s work. “There’s always room for improvement,” the son says, critiquing the job his father did. “In my case it’s hard,” the father replies. I don’t speak Spanish (or Catalan, the regional dialect also featured) but, having seen many Woody Allen films, it’s amazing how Pera replicates Allen’s voice intonation and mannerisms. Bernstein-Wax’s first film has been well received, garnering the Jury Award for Best Short Documentary at the Sonoma International Film Festival earlier this year. I can see why.

The Courtesy of Angels

Created by a French filmmaker, Valerie Theodore, “The Courtesy of Angels” has taken a universal story around the world. It tells the story of Louise (Delphine Theodore), a young caretaking assistant, and her interactions with an amnesic old man, Mr. Vadim (Andre Oumansky). This short film is in French with English subtitles.

The theme of interconnectedness among generations is global and I found myself drawn to one of the movie’s main lines – “well being is the courtesy of angels.” Theodore ably highlights the fragility of life and good health, something that translates in any language.

Tourvall II: Into the darkness

I’ve said before in doing reviews on short films that sometimes I’m amazed how filmmakers are able to create a fully developed plot in under ten minutes. At only seven minutes, at first I felt that Writer/Director Sean Skinner’s “Tourvall II: Into the Darkness” was taking too long to get to the point. After watching the entire piece, I came to the conclusion that there isn’t a point. But to the film’s credit, that didn’t make it any less entertaining.

We see Sven Skarnestad (Mick Karch) visiting former pro wrestler Tourvall “The Terrible” Johannsen (Joe Berglove) on his deathbed and reliving some of his past glory. The film aptly spoofs the crazy world of professional wrestling and the interjection of Jorge Gundersen (Edward Linder), an eager convalescent home employee, was an unexpected and amusing touch. (As Sven is sitting bedside, Jorge hands him a brochure and says, “Please take a moment to fill out the survey. We would love to your Yelp review. We’re also on the Twitter: #notjustaplacetodie.”) Silliness for sure, but what’s wrong with that?


Hearts Want’s premiere

Hearts Want‘s main TCFF premiere is today, Thursday 10/26 at 5pm (with red carpet interview at 4:30). There are a few tickets left for tonight, but act fast before they’re gone. Click on the banner below to get tickets.


Coming up tomorrow…

Two Minnesota-connected films are playing back-to-back tomorrow night… Twin Cities is actually produced by the director of Hearts Want, Jason P. Schumacher!

Stay tuned for interviews with writer/director of Twin Cities David Ash and one of the main actors of Ruin Me, Alex Galick.


The daily TCFF coverage continues…