FlixChatter Review – Happy Death Day (2017)

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Directed By: Christopher Landon
Written By: Scott Lobdell
Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine
Runtime: 1h 36min

After lucking out with the last two horror movies I’ve reviewed (Annabelle: Creation and IT) being fantastic, I figured I was due for a disappointing one, and Happy Death Day looked like it would fit the bill. The title sounds like a D-list 90’s horror movie you’d find on Amazon Prime, and the synopsis is basically teen horror Groundhog Day. My hopes for this film were not high.

In Happy Death Day, sorority girl Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) re-lives the same day over and over, from waking up in fellow student Carter Davis (Israel Broussard)’s dorm room after a drunken night, to butting heads with frenemy Danielle (Rachel Matthews) and roommate Lori (Ruby Modine), to being murdered by a mysterious masked figure every night. Tree uses each repeat trying to discover the identity of her killer and survive their attack, hopefully escaping the loop.

Despite the trailers advertising this movie as straight horror, it’s actually more of a dark comedy. This made it more enjoyable, as it wasn’t just another teen slasher film. There’s a decent amount of physical comedy, and there’s some genuinely funny dialogue, especially from mean girl sorority president Danielle. While it’s not a typical horror movie, it has some good suspenseful moments and tense build-ups. Tree’s character arc is surprisingly well-done, incorporating her background into the story without the exposition being too clunky.

All of this isn’t enough to make this a great movie, however. The concept obviously isn’t original, and the one throwaway comment about its similarity to cult classic Groundhog Day they tack on at the very end doesn’t change the fact that the storyline is unoriginal and will be compared to the 90’s movie by most people who see it. While the identity of the murderer isn’t predictable, the reveal is forced and their reason for their actions is the product of clearly lazy writing. Lastly, the mask the killer wears throughout the movie is pretty ridiculous even by cheesy slasher movie standards. While I assume the oversized baby face mask is meant to be creepy and unsettling, it just looks goofy, and I cracked up every time I saw it on screen.

Despite its problems, Happy Death Day is a surprisingly fun movie, although if you’re looking for a more typical horror movie, you might want to skip it. If you catch it on TV or streaming, though, it’s worth a watch.

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Have you seen ‘Happy Death Day’? Well, what did you think? 

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The 8 Twin Cities Film Fest tickets to get – recommendations from our Artistic Director Steve Snyder

It’s now just a week away until Twin Cities Film Fest starts on Wednesday Oct. 18 – Saturday Oct 28. I’ve mentioned some of the studio/MN feature films as well as documentaries you shouldn’t miss.

Now, there are some films you’re probably already excited about that you’ve gotten tickets to. But there are those which are some best we have to offer that for whatever reason just haven’t gotten as much attention. Well, thanks to TCFF artistic director and lead programmer Steve Snyder, we have some recommendations on films you definitely should check out.


Click on each title that’ll take you to its respective page on TCFF site.
Tickets are selling fast, so don’t delay.


The Fall season is always a romantic time of year… and the first two films are romantic comedies…

The Year of Spectacular Men

Screening Wednesday October 18th – 8:15 PM
Lea Thompson, MN native and star of Back to the Future and Caroline in the City, makes her directorial debut with this critically-acclaimed comedy from the LA Film Festival. Starring Zoe Deutch of Why Him and Vampire Academy. Both are coming to Minneapolis in person – and your ticket gets you into the opening party. About two smart and sassy sisters and their crazy romantic misadventures.

We don’t have a trailer yet but here’s a clip from the film:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Screening Saturday, Oct. 28

Hilarious new adaptation of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy, set in modern-day Los Angeles. Starring an awesome mix of actors who veer from sweet to silly. It stars Rachael Leigh Cook who will be appearing in person, and receiving the TCFF North Star Award. Your ticket also gets you into the epic closing night party.

 
Best Actor Watch
Breathe
Screening Wednesday, Oct. 18 
Andrew Garfield has quickly become one of the top actors of his generation. He now stars in the new biopic that’s on this year’s Oscar watch list – Breathe, an inspiring story about a man who fought for the rights of the disabled. Garfield plays Robin Cavendish, a man who became paralyzed from the neck down at the age of 28 but who spent the rest of his life becoming a pioneering advocate for the disabled.

*Editor’s note: this film is also the directorial debut of motion capture expert Andy Serkis, known for playing Golum in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy
True MN story 
Screenings:
Friday October 20th – 7:20 PM & Saturday October 21st – 2:10 PM
A critically-acclaimed documentary about a true Minnesota tragedy that has become a hit on the film festival circuit, and moved executive producer Werner Herzog to help it get released. It’s the haunting story of local Minnesota filmmaker David Crowley, who in 2010 started working on a film about the government crushing civil liberties. When he and his wife and their children were found dead in their home in 2014, conspiracy theorists went wild with government assassination theories. We will have the filmmaker, and some of Crowley’s family, in attendance. And will host the world premiere of a special “director’s cut” of the film.
Indie Surprise of the Year
Screening:
Friday October 20th – 5:30 PM, Friday October 27th – 12:45 
If you’re looking for one of this year’s true indie discoveries, here’s the surprise you’ll keep talking about: Tater Tot & Patton an incredibly moving and heartfelt family drama shot in South Dakota about a city girl and her rancher uncle – two people who don’t really get along but who bond over one summer as they mourn his dead wife, and her dead aunt. It’s a film that brings you into their world and their life.

Taut Thriller
The Midnighters
Screenings:
Friday October 20th – 9:45 PM, Thursday October 26th – 1:15pm 
A creepy, scary and exhilarating thriller that was a hit at film festivals in Los Angeles…it’s about a couple who accidentally hit a man with their car – and then throw him in the backseat when they flee the scene to avoid the consequences. They chose poorly.

Western / Thriller w/ a great cast 
Screening Wednesday, Oct. 25 

Bill Pullman, Jim Caviezel and Peter Fonda star in this moody, dark Western about a cowboy who sets out on a sprawling, dangerous journey across the countryside to avenge his longtime partner’s brutal murder. It’s the most interesting new Western realized by Hollywood in years.
Family Pick!
Screening Sunday October 22nd – 12:00 PM 
One of the most interesting titles in our first-ever Family Fest – a touching tale about a young girl who leaves a lasting mark on a broken family, bringing healing to their hearts and music to their world. It stars Broadway and Hollywood legend Constance Towers, and is a true gem for families who want to be part of this year’s festival.

One film I choose to champion today is the documentary SHE STARTED IT

She Started It is an award-winning documentary that provides a rare look in the lives of five ambitious young women entrepreneurs (Thuy, Stacey, Sheena, Brienne and Agathe) who will stop at nothing to pursue their startup dreams.


Check out the full lineup schedule on TCFF official site


Thoughts on any of these films? Which one(s) caught your interest?

BLADE RUNNER 2049 review

I’ve seen the original Blade Runner countless times, I’ve bought the movie on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, Bluray and recently 4K Bluray Disc. So yes, I’m obsessed with it and to say that this sequel is my most anticipated movie of the year is an understatement. Back in the early 90s, Ridley Scott was rumored to have pitched a sequel idea to the studio folks but he couldn’t get it off the ground mostly because he’s been churning out box office duds at the time. Now finally we get to see a sequel to one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time.

Set 30 years after the event of the first film, LA is still a hellhole with constant rain and cloud looming over the city. Many of its citizens are now filled with new breeds of replicants and Blade Runners are still active and hunts down the older models of replicants who are considered illegals. As the movie opens, one of the Blade Runners K (Ryan Gosling) has found his target, a replicant by the name of Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista). Morton is living outside of the city and wants to be left alone but since he’s illegal, K was forced to retire him. After surveying Morton’s place, K found out about something that could put society into chaos. He informed his boss, Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) and she ordered him to find out everything he can and get rid of any evident so no one can know about what he’d found.

Unfortunately for K and his boss, the city’s new replicant creator Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) knew what K has discovered and he order his right-hand woman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) to shadow K’s every move. As K digs deeper, it leads him to an old Blade Runner Deckard (Harrison Ford) who’s now living in an isolated location way out of the city. I think that’s all I can say about the story of this film, it’s got some good surprises and fans of the original film will be very pleased with the final results.

Dennis Villeneuve has created a world that’s similar to Scott’s vision but he enhanced it with his own style. Clocking in at around 2 hours and 40 minutes long, it’s a bit too long but Villeneuve did an amazing job of setting the mood and reveal the surprises as the story progresses. Roger Deakins should finally win an Oscar for this film, it’s one of the best-looking films ever made, you need to see it on the biggest screen you can find. His lighting and shot of each sequence is drop dead gorgeous. The script by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green is pretty good, they introduced some new ideas and I thought the story is much better than the original film. Although, I’m not exactly sure what kind of “message” they’re trying to say in this film. The score my Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch is excellent, they incorporated Vangelis’ score from the first film and then introduced some new one for this film.

I’m not the biggest fan of Gosling and was a bit skeptical when he’s cast as the lead in this film but I thought he’s pretty good here. His character is kind of mystery and we audience follow his quest to find out who he really is and why he’s doing what he’s doing. I don’t want to give out any information about his character but Gosling’s one note performance fits this character. Even though he’s only in the film for less than an hour, Ford gave a pretty emotional performance as Deckard, let’s just say he finally got some closure.

Leto didn’t really stand out that much, he’s hardly in the film and whenever he appears, he seems to be doing the typical villain who thinks of himself as some kind of God. Hoeks gave a pretty intense performance as the ruthless killer who’ll do anything to please her boss. Robin Wright who seems to be in a lot big movies these days, kind of gave an over-the-top performance as the tough police boss, again her role’s very small and didn’t make much impression on me. The only person who was on the screen as much as Gosling was Ana de Armas, she’s his “girlfriend” and I thought she did a decent job of playing the worried girlfriend/supporter of the hero.

This is a film that would probably divide some audiences, just like the first one did. It’s not action-packed as it’s advertised, pretty much all of the action scenes were shown in the trailers. I do recommend that you see the original film before going to see this one and if you’ve seen it but don’t remember much about the first film then you might get confused a little bit. My recommendation is to watch the original again before seeing this one.

With jaw dropping visual effects, tight direction and some good performances, this is one of my favorite films I’ve seen this year. I’m not going to call it a masterpiece like some critics did but it’s a great film and I’m planning to see it again a couple of more times. If there’s an IMAX or Dolby Cinema theater near you, go see it there.

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So have you seen BLADE RUNNER 2049? Well, what did you think?

Spotlight on 10 great documentaries playing at 2017 TCFF!

It’s that time of the year again, folks! Less than two weeks until the 11-day film festivities and cinematic marathon begins. Yep, the 8th annual Twin Cities Film Fest begins starts on Wednesday Oct. 18 – Saturday Oct 28.

I’ve mentioned some of the studio and MN feature films screening at TCFF that I’m excited about, but here I wanted to focus about documentaries specifically. Year after year TCFF has always featured great documentaries that are both insightful and entertaining. Before I get to the list, check out the TCFF documentary promo:


Have you gotten your tickets yet?
They are selling fast, so don’t delay.

Click on each documentary title that’ll take you to its respective page on TCFF site.


Kudos once again to the programming team at TCFF for selecting such a varied list of films that covers so many different genres and topics! Whether it’s a murder mystery, inspirational tales, personal struggles, sports or timely human stories seeking refuge, there’s truly something insightful and illuminating for everyone here.

Here they are in alphabetical order:

A Gray State — Director’s Cut

  • Saturday October 21st – 2:10 PM

Director/Producer: Erik Nelson
Executive Producer: Werner Herzog

In 2010 David Crowley, an Iraq veteran, aspiring filmmaker and charismatic up-and-coming voice in fringe politics, began production on his film “Gray State.” Set in a dystopian near-future where civil liberties are trampled by an unrestrained federal government, the film’s crowdfunded trailer was enthusiastically received by the burgeoning online community of libertarians, Tea Party activists as well as members of the nascent alt-right. In January of 2015, Crowley was found dead with his family in their suburban Minnesota home. Their shocking deaths quickly become a cause célèbre for conspiracy theorists who speculate that Crowley was assassinated by a shadowy government concerned about a film and filmmaker that was getting too close to the truth about their aims.


To be honest with you I’m actually not that familiar w/ the David Crowley story at all. But upon reading about this I’m very curious about it, naturally. At the TCFF Kickoff soirée, my hubby and I ran into Twin Cities’ film legend Al Milgrom as we’re about to head out and got into a conversation with him. He told us to read this New Yorker article by Alec Wilkinson before we see this documentary, so I intend to do that.


ABU

  • Friday October 20th – 2:45 PM
  • Monday October 23rd – 3:15 PM

Director: Arshad Khan

This riveting documentary follows the struggles of Arshad Khan and his relationship with his conservative, strict father (Abu) and traditional mother. Combining vintage footage, animation, and recent interviews, Arshad shares his intimate story of being gay, embracing his culture and dealing with the death of his father.

 


This sounds like the kind of poignant, perhaps even bittersweet film about self discovery and the struggle to be accepted. His journey would certainly resonate with many people, whether or not we deal with sexual orientation or not.


Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict

  • Saturday October 21st – 12:10 PM

Director: Thomas Benca

Chasing the Dragon chronicles the lives of several people, from different backgrounds, who fell victim to the opioid epidemic. Their testimonies tell a tragic story that is being felt by families and communities across the country.


As someone who dealt with a mother who died partly because of pain meds and sleeping pills, this film would be tough to watch for me. But it’s certainly a story worth telling, as a cautionary tale that’s sadly prevalent in many households.


COYOTE

  • Saturday October 21st – 9:45 AM (SOLD OUT)
  • Sunday, October 22nd 7:10pm (SOLD OUT)
  • Sunday, October 22nd 9:40pm (Tickets Available)

Director: Thomas Simmons

The inspiring true story of legendary sailor, Mike Plant, the “Saltwater Cowboy” (Sailing World) who completed three solo circumnavigations and set the American record for the fastest lap of the planet. His adventurous spirit and colorful past make Plant “as close as yachting gets to a James Dean character” (The New York Times) with a universal story about daring to dream.


Though I haven’t been on a sailing trip before, I’ve always found the idea of sailing so fascinating. I’ve never heard of Mike Plant before but his journey sounds so fascinating, and the ‘dare to dream’ story is definitely a universal one. Plus, being in the ocean is always a fun escapism for me.


Human Flow

  • Thursday October 19th – 7:45 PM

Director: Ai Weiwei

Artist, activist and director Ai Weiwei captures the global refugee crisis – the greatest human displacement since World War II – I in this breathtakingly epic film journey HUMAN FLOW.


No doubt this film is as timely as ever. It’s definitely one I have to pack tissues for, even the trailer moved me to tears. As an immigrant, I’m always cognizant about what it means to have a home away from home… and I realize not many people are as blessed as I am in that regard.


Legends of The Road

  • Monday October 23rd – 3:30 PM

Director: Gary Thomsen

Legends of The Road is a captivating blend of documentary techniques, mixing a unique style of candid student shot vérité footage with the in-your-face style of Leon Gast. It’s a deeply moving account of 28 public high school students from Chief Sealth High School, in Seattle, Washington, who in 1999-2000 completed an extraordinary research project on a largely unknown baseball phenomenon known as barnstorming. And, then in 2000, re-created a “Barnstorming Tour” to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Barnstorming.


This sounds like a must for baseball fans (as our blog contributor Sarah Johnson can attest!). But even if you’re not into the sport, we can all enjoy an inspiring story about overcoming obstacles and achieving something against all odds.


Purple Dreams

  • Monday October 23rd – 6:15 PM

Director: Joanne Hock

“Packing all the drama of “A Chorus Line,” the adolescent charm of “Fame” and the talent of “Glee,” “Purple Dreams” is the story of students at Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte.

From auditions to callbacks to ultimate triumph, filmmaker Joanne Hock follows a group at the school as they undertake a production of “The Color Purple”.



Speaking of overcoming obstacles, this is another story about the triumph of the human spirit. Even the trailer is a charmer, I can’t wait to be swept off my feet by these Charlotte school children tackling an important play based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel.


Screenagers

  • Sunday October 22nd – 2:15 PM

Director: Delaney Ruston

SCREENAGERS probes into the vulnerable corners of family life, including the director’s own, and depicts messy struggles over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction. Thru surprising insights from authors and brain scientists solutions immerge on how we can empower kids to best navigate the digital world.


I’m surprised I actually haven’t seen a documentary on this topic sooner. I mean it’s not just teenagers who are suffering from screen addiction, I know I am guilty of that as well. As soon as one gets oneself a smart phone, we are prone to this addiction. I don’t have kids myself, but I certainly feel for parents who have to discipline kids in the digital age.


She Started It

  • Monday October 23rd – 6:30 PM

Director: Nora Poggi, Insiyah Saeed

She Started It is an award-winning documentary that provides a rare look in the lives of five ambitious young women entrepreneurs (Thuy, Stacey, Sheena, Brienne and Agathe) who will stop at nothing to pursue their startup dreams.


This is the kind of important documentaries I hope people would make more of. I can’t wait to watch and learn each of these women’s stories as they pursue their dreams. ‘Here’s to the fools who dreams…’ says La La Land, but y’know what, it’s not all all foolish to dream when you’ve got a plan.


Supergirl

  • October 23, 2016 3:45 pm

Director: Jessie Auritt

Naomi seems like a typical 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish girl; watching her lift almost three times her bodyweight tells a different story.

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The word ‘uplifting’ takes a whole new meaning in this film. I always love stories of people who shatters people’s expectations and those who refuse to conform to what’s expected of them.


Check out the full list of documentaries on TCFF official website


As you know, this year I have even more reason to be excited about…


Thoughts on any of these docs? Which one(s) caught your interest?

AMERICAN MADE review

I couldn’t remember the last time Tom Cruise has starred in a film that isn’t some kind of big budget action/adventure, I don’t know if he’s not getting offers to do more dramatic roles or he just likes doing action pictures. Whatever those reasons maybe, he’s now back in a role that’s well-suited for him.

Based on a true-life story of Barry Seal (Cruise), who is a pilot for TWA Airlines. Seal is a very good pilot, he also smuggled Cuban cigars into the States to make some extra cash. This caught the attention of a CIA agent named Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) who asked Seal to come and work for the agency. Bored at his work and also intrigued about working for the CIA, Seal accepted the offer. His job was to fly an advanced airplane with camera attached to it over South America countries and take photos of the communist armies.

After several successful missions, Seal caught the attention of drug runners including the infamous Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejía). Escobar and his buddies wanted Seal to smuggle their cocaine into the States and offered him quite a bit of cash for his troubles. Since the CIA wasn’t paying him that much money for his work and his trophy wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) wasn’t too happy with their current living situation; Seal decided to take Escobar’s offer and work for the drug runners too. As the story progresses, Seal must try to balance his work for the Agency and drug runners and things will never turn out well when you work with powerful people.

This role is perfect for Cruise. The character is charismatic, cocky and greedy and Cruise looked like he had a great time playing the part. Seal’s a man who loves to take risks and of course being a greedy person, he’d never turn down a chance to make lots of money, even from dangerous people like Escobar. He’s also cares for his family and understands that he won’t be able to make the big bucks by just being a pilot. I don’t know anything about the real Barry Seal and I’m going to assume many of the things that happened in the film was made up for dramatic purposes. But Cruise shines here as the man who would do anything to be successful. Unfortunately, none of the other actors made much of an impression on me. Sarah Wright played the typical trophy/worried wife and Gleeson was kind of bland as the man of mystery. Other characters were just there to fill the scenes so Cruise can be the star.

The script by Gary Spinelli didn’t really offer anything new for this kind of genre. It’s pretty much been there done that kind of story. In fact, I thought the first half hour was kind of boring and nothing happened that got my attention. But as the story progresses, it got more interesting, but again I’ve seen these kinds of stories many times in other films and TV shows that I was not surprised at what’s going to happen next. Director Doug Liman decided to shoot the film in style of the 70s and 80s to fit the period and I thought he did a good job capturing the look and feel from those decades. His use of constant handheld and shaky cam style on some scenes were quite annoying though.

This is a good film that belongs to Tom Cruise, so if you’re fan of his then I think you’ll enjoy it. Crime dramas are hard to do these days since it’s been done so well in films from years past. So even though I enjoyed this film, I just can’t give it a higher rating.

 

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So have you seen American Made? Well, what did you think?

Spotlight on ‘American Assassin’ – Interview with lead actor Dylan O’Brien and author Kyle Mills at its Minnesota premiere

Welcome to another edition of FlixChatter Interview! Thanks to Allied Integrated Marketing for the opportunity to be a part of the red carpet interview on Friday night on September 8.

Because the late author of the original Mitch Rapp series, Vince Flynn, was born in St. Paul, it was nice to see the studio held the premiere in his hometown. Well it was Roseville, MN, but close enough.  Mr Flynn had died back in June of 2013 after a three-year battle with prostate cancer, but his widow Lysa Flynn was there, along with Dylan O’Brien, the star of the film, as well as Kyle Mills, the author continuing Mitch Rapp book series and the film’s producer Lorenzo Di Bonventura.

It was lovely that I got a chance to chat with Lysa Flynn. I asked her if there was any special memory of her late husband as he was writing the Mitch Rapp books. She said that Vince Flynn was always very organized about his writing. He’d make little recipe cards that were color coordinated. He’d put things together carefully for weeks before he actually started writing. She’s beyond proud and happy how the film turned out and loved Dylan O’Brien in the lead role.

Above are photos I took with my own iPhone. 

Author Kyle Mills and Dylan O’Brien posed with Lysa Flynn on September 8, 2017
(Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images for CBS Films)


AMERICAN ASSASSIN follows the rise of Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien), a CIA black ops recruit under the instruction of Cold War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). The pair is then enlisted by CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) to investigate a wave of apparently random attacks on both military and civilian targets. Together the three discover a pattern in the violence leading them to a joint mission with a lethal Turkish agent (Shiva Negar) to stop a mysterious operative (Taylor Kitsch) intent on starting a World War.

 

DIRECTED BY: Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger)
PRODUCED BY: Lorenzo di Bonaventura (Transformers), Nick Wechsler (Under the Skin, The Road)
CAST: Michael Keaton, Dylan O’Brien, Taylor Kitsch, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar


Quest review of the movie
by Vitali Gueron

Thanks Vitali for keeping me company as I waiting for everyone to show up. I wasn’t able to stay for the screening itself so I asked him to review the film for me.

The pairing of Michael Keaton and Dylan O’Brien as Stan Hurley and Mitch Rapp in American Assassin makes for a near-perfect duo in this action-packed thriller. After Rapp is recruited to join an elite, but secret anti-terrorism unit headed by Hurley, he must prove his worth as an spy/assassin. When things don’t go according to plans, Rapp disobeys Hurley’s direct orders so he can track down the mission’s target on his own. Thankfully, Rapp is on his way to becoming a master spy/assassin and he goes on to gain the resect of his trainer. And to our relief, by the end of the movie, Rapp makes a choice to listen to Hurley and follow his direction, just in the nick of time when an armed nuclear bomb risks the lives of thousands of Americans.

While most of the main plot points in American Assassin have been done before in other spy thrillers, the combination of O’Brien and Keaton works because they are codependent on each other. That is, each one is primarily dependent on the other person’s dependence on them. Hurley has to depend on Rapp to carry out the mission and stay alive while Rapp has to rely on Hurley to find their targets and communicate with the CIA to coordinate their efforts in order to stop the madman Ghost (Taylor Kitsch). Neither Hurley nor Rapp could accomplish the tasks on their own.

This American Assassin action thriller is here to stay, as evident from the final few shots in the movie as well as the fact that Vince Flynn had written an entire series of novels with the character of Mitch Rapp, the American Assassin. I, for one am looking forward to the next partnership of Hurley and Rapp, as well as the next onscreen performance of both Michael Keaton and Dylan O’Brien.

 

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After over an hour waiting for the talents to show up, my patience was rewarded as I did get to talk to ALL of them who came to the premiere. I am only posting my interviews with Dylan and Kyle below.

Q&A with Dylan O’Brien

My friend Vitali snapped this right in the middle of our interview 😛

I have to admit I didn’t expect I would actually get a chance to meet Dylan O’Brien given how many press people were waiting, most of whom were from big local news companies like KARE11, Star Tribune, WCCO, etc. Plus they seemed to be running behind and the talents had to get inside the theatre to introduce the screening. But suddenly he started making his way closer to me and his publicist said to me I’d be his last interview of the night. So yeah, it was cool to be able to chat with him for a total of two-and-a-half minutes 🙂

I have never seen Dylan in anything before, but I knew he was in The Maze Runner franchise and Teen Wolf series. I also read a couple of years ago about his massive on-set injury last year that shut down production of Maze Runner: The Death Cure. Glad to see him looking well and in good spirits. He seemed genuinely cordial, sweet and professional. No movie star pretense at all despite his success as a young actor. Even though the place was loud and so many people wanted to get his attention, he was attentive to whomever he was speaking to. I enjoyed meeting him and wish him all the success in his career!

Listen below on my Q&A with the talented young actor:

Are you a big fan of the Vince Flynn books?

How did your training for this movie have to be changed due to your recovery from your injury

What was it like working alongside Michael Keaton?

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Q&A with Kyle Mills

The first person from the American Assassin‘s team I got to talk to is Kyle Mills. He’s a New York Times’ best-selling author who has written plenty of thriller novels in a similar vein as Vince Flynn’s books. He told me his father was an FBI agent for 25 years so he felt like he grew up surrounded by characters like Mitch Rapp. That made him the perfect choice to continue Mr. Flynn’s books, plus he’s also written books that were originally created by Robert Ludlum.

I made a playlist of my convo with Mr. Mills. Here are my three questions…

Q1: How hard is it taking over a book series you didn’t create?

Q2: What did you think of Dylan O’Brien’s casting?

Q2: Are you thrilled by how the film turned out?


Have you seen American Assassin? Feel free to share your thoughts about the film and/or the interviews.

A sneak peek into the 8th annual Twin Cities Film Fest schedule

Can’t believe it’s just a little over a month away until the fun film festivities begins here in the Twin Cities! If you follow me on Facebook, then you’d already know that this year’s film fest is an extra special for yours truly… yep, I’m still in a daze that Hearts Want is actually premiering at TCFF in October!! If you told me around the same time last year that I would have my own film playing at TCFF in 2017 I’d say that you are nuts. Our film will be playing in one of several short blocks at the fest, I will update this post as soon as I know the exact schedule.

Well, if you haven’t seen the teaser yet, well here you go…


This year’s fundraising gala’s theme is A Year of Spectacular Women… which is as timely as ever and it’s also a play on this year’s Opening Night film, A Year of Spectacular Men, a directorial debut of Minnesota native Lea Thompson and stars her daughters Zoey Deutch and Madelyn Deutch. The upcoming drama-comedy will make its world premiere at TCFF on Oct. 18 with both Lea Thompson and Zoey Deutch in attendance.

We don’t have a trailer yet but here’s a clip from the film:

The official 2017 Centerpiece film will be the inspirational documentary Purple Dreams, which follows lives of inner-city, at-risk students who succeed at their passion while embracing the transformative power of their arts education. The true-life adventure screens Oct. 23.

TCFF will continue its tradition of honoring a Social Cause this year by putting a spotlight on ‘Addiction.’ To highlight addiction TCFF will screen three documentaries (Chasing the Dragon, Addicted to Porn and Screenagers) and a drama called Tatertot and Patton which showcases alcohol addiction.

Some of Fall’s most-anticipated films are also amongst the lineup…

Acclaimed director Sean Baker’s The Florida Project starring Willem Dafoe:

Dramedy Last Flag Flying starring Bryan Cranston, Steve Carrell and Laurence Fishburne:

WWII drama The Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldman as Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

It’s a year of debuts it seems. Motion capture virtuoso Andy Serkis’ directorial debut Breathe, starring Andrew Garfield as a young man struck down with polio looks like a heart-warming tearjerker.

Those are just the studio films. There are plenty of indie features to be excited about…

The Bachelors stars J.K. Simmons dealing with an early death of his wife with his teenage son.

A grizzled, rugged looking Matt Bomer stars in Walking Out, where he plays an estranged father who faces a brutal encounter in the heart of Montana wilderness with his teenage son.

Little Pink House stars Catherine Keener and Jeanne Tripplehorn about a working-class neighborhood struggling to save their homes from political and corporate interests bent on seizing the land and handing it over to Pfizer Corporation.

I gotta give a shout out to Minnesota-made indie feature Twin Cities, produced by the filmmaker who directed my short film, Jason P. Schumacher. Hearts Want‘s lead actor Peter Christian Hansen also has a supporting role in the film. Directed by David Ash, its prequel 2021 actually premiered at TCFF in 2015.

The festival will close with writer and director Colette Burson’s Permanent, a film centering on a story of a hairstyle gone incredibly wrong and a young girl’s fight to fit in while encountering bullies at a new school. Burson will be in attendance for the red carpet and hosting a Q&A following the film.


Tickets will open up to members and pass holders on September 29th, with general public access the following week. To find out how to become a TCFF Member and for a full list of films playing at this year’s festival please visit TCFF official site »



Hope to see you at TCFF next month!
Which of these films are you most looking forward to?

FlixChatter Review – IT (2017)

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Directed By: Andy Muschietti
Written By: Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman (screenplay)
Runtime: 2 hr 15 minutes

Fair warning: this review won’t compare the new film adaptation of Stephen King’s It to the 1990 minieries or to the novel itself. Regarding the former, it’s not really fair to compare a miniseries, which is pretty limited on what it can show on TV, to a big-budget, theatrically released feature film. As for the latter, I’ve only read about a quarter of the novel because that thing is a behemoth and I didn’t have enough time to finish it in time for the screening, so I don’t feel qualified to discuss the movie as an adaptation. While I might mention them once or twice, my main focus will be discussing the film, on its own, as a horror movie-and it’s a great one.

It follows a group of misfit kids in 1989- Bill (Jaeden Lieberher), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff)- as they try to uncover why children always go missing every 27 years in their small town of Derry, Maine. All seven friends are terrorized by “It,” the force of evil behind the disappearances and deaths, that most often takes the sinister form of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), and the group fights for their lives not to become It’s next victims.

The acting in this movie is phenomenal, especially from such young actors, all of whom have excellent chemistry. Stranger Things’ star Finn Wolfhard as Richie and Jack Dylan Glazer as Eddie stand out with their comedic delivery, and Jaeden Lieberher as Bill and Sophia Lillis as Beverly give some truly heartbreaking performances. Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise makes the character his own, and his performance is truly unsettling, from the way he moves to his creepy voice.

As far as scares go, It does not leave horror fans wanting. Pennywise alone is, of course, frightening, mainly because many of his scenes involve either him in the shadows or brief, startling glimpses of him. It’s other manifestations as each kid’s individual fears are terrifying as well, and their reveals are incredibly well-done; some of them are slow, dark, and suspenseful, while some of them pop right out of nowhere in broad daylight, and I love the variety and unpredictability.

All that said, there were a couple problems I had with this movie. While Pennywise is scary in most of his scenes, there are a few that I think they meant to be creepy or unsettling but come across more as comical- not nearly as much as Tim Curry in the library scene of the 1990 version, but enough to distract from the overall tone of the movie. Bill Skarsgard has said how much he loved Curry’s performance, and maybe he was trying to draw inspiration from it, but if that’s the case, I’m not sure it was a good idea.

I’m also disappointed in how little they focused on the character of Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs). For a movie that is mostly well-paced and makes an obvious effort to develop the other characters, Mike’s backstory feels tacked on; he just talks about it for maybe a minute a little after he meets the other kids. A lot of the climax of the movie takes place in the house where he was trapped during a fire that killed both of his parents, but besides his brief account of it a couple scenes earlier, he never addresses it when they’re actually at the house, which seems like a huge missed opportunity. Considering Mike is the only kid who remains in Derry into adulthood (sorry about the spoiler, but come on, the book has been out for over thirty years now), you’d think they’d spend a little more time fleshing out his backstory.

Overall, though, It is easily the best horror movie I’ve seen in the past few years. I want to watch it multiple times, just because so many of the scenes are so detailed that I feel like I’d notice new things during each viewing. I’m so happy they’re splitting it into two movies, and the second one can’t get here soon enough.

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Have you seen IT movie? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Logan Lucky (2017)

It’s been ages since Steven Soderbergh, though I gotta admit I wasn’t too impressed with his last film Side Effects. But still, glad he didn’t end up retiring after all, and he returns to do a heist action comedy, as Soderbergh himself described, Logan Lucky is an anti-glam version of an Ocean movie (per EW) and it’s definitely much smarter than it looks.

Channing Tatum and Adam Driver play brothers Jimmy & Clyde who attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race in Charlotte, North Carolina. It did give me a pause for a moment considering what just happened in that town. In any case, they ended up enlisting an explosive expert aptly named Joe Bang (a hilarious Daniel Craig) to help with the plan. The film’s pacing could’ve been a bit more dynamic but fortunately it’s got enough going for it to keep my attention thanks to the actors’ performance. Watching these actors attempt Southern accent was a hoot, Craig was the most surprising as he’s a Brit but I thought Adam Driver’s accent was spot on and made me giggle every time.

The film offers plenty of laughs. There’s a pretty amusing cameo by Seth MacFarlane doing a spot on Cockney accent. But the funniest moments are during the heist itself, and I do think Craig has a career in comedy once his Bond stints are done. The heist faced some challenges along the way, but there’s a clever twist at the end that made you go ha!

I think the strength of the film is the likable characters. Unlike the handsome, well-dressed smarty-pants like the Oceans’ movies, the Logans and the Bangs siblings are simple folks. They’re essentially nice guys who have been dealt a bad hand at life. Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson (yet another talented Irish actor from the Gleeson family!) as Joe Bang’s two brothers are pretty funny as well. Riley Keough (yep, Elvis’ granddaughter) is pretty decent as the sister of the Logan brothers, and cameos by Katie Holmes as Jimmy’s ex wife and Hilary Swank as a Federal Agent. There’s also a sweet father/daughter relationship between Jimmy and his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie).

I just learned about Soderbergh’s unorthodox distribution deals for this film (made on a relatively low budget of $29 mil). Heh, that’s too bad Logan Lucky didn’t do well as I’d like more filmmakers getting creative control for their work. I hope more people would go and support this movie whilst it’s still in theatres. It’s a zany yet shrewd script by first time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt, who I hope would continue to get more work (that is if that isn’t just a pseudonym). It’s a pretty fun movie that never took itself too seriously, and I find it refreshing that it’s not mean-spirited nor foul-mouthed like so many comedies these days.


Did you see LOGAN LUCKY? Well, what did you think?

Indie Film Spotlight: GUNN + Interview with writer/director C.J. Renner & four cast members

It’s always fun being able to wear my film journalist hat once in a while. So whenever there’s an opportunity to chat with a filmmaker, whether locally or from other parts of the world, I always jump at the chance. This time, we’ve got something special because I get to do the interview on a different format… on video! Thanks to Minnesota-based filmmaker C.J. Renner and producer Sasha Rayl, as well as four of GUNN cast members for taking the time to chat with me last Friday afternoon.

I always love a good noir. GUNN is a gangster crime drama unlike anything I’ve ever seen. From the way the story is written to the deliberate surrealistic production style, it’s so refreshing to see a classic story done in an unconventional way.

All Elston Gunn ever needed to survive was a little luck and his Tommy gun. But when he discovers his whole world is just a staged play, he must dodge not only cops but stagehands… he must save not only his crumbling empire, but his last hold on reality.

There’s a lot to like about GUNN. The film is quite stylish with great camera angles and lighting for maximum effect. Despite the limited indie budget, Renner and his team are very creative and resourceful in constructing the minimalistic sets to support the narrative. Right from the fantastic Mondrian style opening credits, this is a cool, stylish film. I like the deliberate dreamy/surreal quality which fits the themes and storyline well, and he’s got a terrific ensemble cast to bring his story to life.

Andrew Stecker as Elston Gunn

Andrew Stecker portrays the inner conflict of Elston nicely. The fact that he doesn’t look like a typical gangster works in the story’s favor, and I like the vulnerability he brings to the role. Amanda Day and Anna Stranz are two wonderful talents I’ve seen in previous films before, glad to see each have a decent character arc in the film. Richard Keats as the mob boss and Noah Gillett as Elston’s closest crony, as well as Peter Christian Hansen and Tyson Lietz as the two cops hot on the gangsters’ tail, are all terrific in their roles.

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Some films that are shot mostly on set sometimes felt constricting, but that’s not the case here. Once you accept the surrealistic nature, the film flows quite nicely. The creative use of lighting and camera work create some striking imagery on screen. Because of the minimalist set, the costumes play a huge part in conveying the Prohibition era and boy, do the cast look fabulous in 1930s outfits. I love the satin dresses, fur accessories on the women… and the guys look oh-so-dapper in vests, suspenders and Fedoras.

I can’t write this review without mentioning the wonderful music by Travis Anderson, one of the biggest strengths of the film. The jazzy score and some of the songs performed in the film are not only catchy, but they add so much to the mood and atmosphere.

The pacing could be a bit more dynamic, some of the heavy-dialog scenes, as the scene between Keats and Stecker in the middle of the film felt a little too long. But really it’s a small quibble in an otherwise a smart, enjoyable debut film. Kudos to C.J. for coming up with such a cool story, but also in executing it in such a clever way.

I hope GUNN will get some kind of theatrical release or VOD distribution soon! Check out some of the clips from the film embedded in the two videos below… enjoy!

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Interview video with writer/director C.J. Renner:

In my 7+ years covering Minnesota films and filmmakers as a blogger, I’m even more impressed by the local talents we’ve got in this town. C.J. is definitely a filmmaker to watch and I truly hope he continues to write and make more films in the future!

Interview video with cast members Andrew Stecker, Noah Gillett, Anna Stranz and Peter Christian Hansen:

It was so fun interviewing the cast! It was so great meeting Andrew for the first time just before the interview. Peter & Noah are both in my short film Hearts Want, so it was lovely seeing them again. I had met Anna last year at Twin Cities Film Fest and was impressed by her performance in Miles Between Us, surely she’ll have a fruitful acting career ahead of her.

I’m really grateful to everyone for taking the time out of their busy schedule to do this on a Friday afternoon. In fact, Peter had just got done filming another MN indie film shortly before the interview!

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Thanks so much C.J. Renner and the GUNN crew
for the delightful interview!