Highlights from TCFF 2016 Opening Night + Review of ‘Blood Stripe’


For the seventh year in a row, Twin Cities Film Fest is keeping up with tradition of opening the film festivities with a strong film. Last year it opened with an inspiring documentary A New High which goes with 2015’s Changemaker series that supported Homeless Youth, along with the heart-wrenching drama Room featuring Brie Larson who went on to win an Oscar. This year’s social cause is veteran support and once again TCFF picked a stellar Minnesota-made film that features an Oscar-worthy performance by Kate Nowlin. Check out my review below…

Highlights from Opening Night

I’m thrilled that I was able to see Blood Stripe on opening night! In fact, I was at the first screening of the night as initially there was only one screening of the film at 8:30, but it was sold out even two weeks before its screening. The film’s writer/director Remy Auberjonois and writer/lead actress Kate Nowlin, along with supporting cast members René Auberjonois (yes, Remy’s own father) and Rusty Schwimmer were on hand for a Q&A following the screening.

It was awesome meeting some people who worked on the film at the red carpet at the bustling Showplace ICON lobby. I had a nice chat with Blood Stripe‘s script supervisor Aleshia Mueller, whom I had met at TCFF gala last month. My pal Kirsten Gregerson, who played a supporting role in the film, was there also with her sister Kim. I also ran into fellow blogger/actress Emmylou Barden before the film started.



‘Blood Stripe’ Review

When I interviewed filmmakers Remy Auberjonois and Kate Nowlin a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t seen the film yet. I knew it was a terrific film based on the reviews I’ve read out of L.A. Film Festival, well, to say I was floored by it is putting it mildly.


Right from its opening scene when the film’s protagonist first touched down on the airport, I was immediately intrigued by her. Known only as Our Sergeant, she just returned home to Minnesota from her military duty. The film didn’t specify which country she was placed in, though later she did talk about her time in Iraq and Afghanistan. The film isn’t political, nor does it point finger about the cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) many soldiers suffer. It’s a story about a combat vet who happens to be a female Marine, and the trials and tribulations she goes through in the film.

Despite the dark subject matter, the film is far from somber. It’s effortlessly engaging, thanks to Kate Nowlin‘s immense screen presence. She is tough, powerful yet vulnerable, and Nowlin embodied her character so beautifully. I have to admit I’m not really into war-themed films in general, but I’ve always been drawn to those that focus on the psychological aspect of the soldiers, i.e. The Thin Red Line. But Blood Stripe captures the brutality of war without actually showing it. It’s a mental torture that the ‘Sarge’ endured, at times she’s on the brink of losing it, and it’s a truly haunting performance. Remy Auberjonois contrasted that mental torment with the striking serenity of Lake Vermilion in Northern Minnesota. This film could practically double as a tourism video of Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region, the scenery is absolutely stunning that it made me want to book a trip there pronto.


I was truly in awe by Nowlin’s extraordinary performance. She also co-wrote the script so she must’ve spent a lot of time with her character, but it’s still quite a feat given that she had no military training prior to taking on this project. I also appreciate the fact that the film utilized all of the supporting cast well, as each had their moment to shine. Chris Sullivan (who I just saw recently in Stranger Things) was terrific as Sarge’s husband, as was Rusty Schwimmer who played the camp’s caretaker where Sarge worked. Tom Lipinski also did a memorable turn as The Fisherman who befriended Sarge. Last but not least, we’ve got the venerable character actor René Auberjonois as the church elder Art who’s the comic relief in the film.

It’s so rare to see female soldiers being depicted on the big screen and I think Nowlin’s portrayal does them justice. The enigmatic ending lingers long after the opening credits, this film certainly adds the conversation to the topic of PTSD in a compelling way. I can’t recommend this one enough to anyone who loves war-themed films, as well as those in the lookout of a captivating, character-driven drama. I sure hope this will get a decent theatrical release around the country as Blood Stripe absolutely deserves to be seen.


What’s in store for Day 2!

Check out all the films playing on Day 2 of TCFF here, tons of great indie films such as June Falling Down, Funeral Day, Road To The Well, as well as great documentaries such as In Pursuit of Silence, I Do? and Have a Baby.

Stay tuned to my interview with June Falling Down‘s writer/director and star Rebecca Weaver!


TCFF Opening Night Film: ‘Blood Stripe’ – Interview w/ Remy Auberjonois & Kate Nowlin

Every year Twin Cities Film Fest selects a social cause to bring to light and this year the subject of the Changemaker series is veteran support. Five powerful films paint a picture of what our vets face post-combat and foster important discussions around how to better serve those who’ve given us their all, which starts with BLOOD STRIPE.


A female Marine veteran, battling unseen wounds from her recent service in Afghanistan, flees her suburban life in search of solace and escape in the North Woods.

Directed by: Remy Auberjonois
Written by: Remy Auberjonois & Kate Nowlin
Runtime: 87 min
Cast: Kate Nowlin, Rene Auberjonois, Rusty Schwimmer, Tom Lipinski, Kristen Gregerson

Additional TCFF screening:
October 28 | 3:00 pm

I had the honor to speak to both the director Remy Auberjonois and lead actress Kate Nowlin, who also co-wrote the film. I interviewed them separately within the span of a couple of weeks. They are both so wonderful to talk to, I’m so inspired by their amazing talents, humility and generous spirits. I’m so thrilled to see the success of ‘Blood Stripe’, winning the Best Fiction Award at L.A. Film Festival is just the beginning. It couldn’t happen to two nicer people!


Remy Auberjonois


Q: What inspired you to that story about PTSD. Is that a personal thing for you is that something that somehow we come across something and then it’s like oh I want to make a story about this.

Remy: Oddly enough, the story was an organic outgrowth from the location in a way. We sort of decided to make a movie, first of all. Then we decided to make a movie on Lake Vermilion and then we were looking around to think about a story that we could tell that could feature Kate in a central role because I knew that I would have her full commitment and she would work all day every day. And I know what a wonderful actor she is. And and in doing that and figuring out what that character could be, we came upon the fact that there are a lot of veterans in that area. Once that opened up for us, then the story sort of took shape. There was been a tremendous amount of a lot of awareness about moral injury, about PTS, about veterans suicide and you know, it was sort of an undeniable aspect and military sexual trauma… there was an undeniable story where we felt that there was room to tell. It also appealed to me in the sense that I saw ways in which he could use the sort of tropes of a thriller film to get inside a sort of paranoid mindset. You know we’re not paranoid but hyper alert. So that aspect appealed to me as there are a lot of movies like that that I’ve really liked. Those that you know create a real sense of unease, and we wanted to try to get inside that.

I felt like the tools of both movies were a useful way to shed some light on that. And because we’ve seen a lot of documentary and we’ve read a lot about this thing that people call PTS or PTSD, we thought that telling a narrative story about it making a dramatic narrative feature about it was another way to contribute to that conversation, to that awareness. We were hardly aware of it except as regular consumers of news, but when we started looking into that character and things that that character might be burdened with, we started to really understand the scope of the really sort of epidemic of this thing. We thought ‘oh yeah this is something that we want to understand more about and we feel like the audience could as well.’

It’s me, Cinematographer Radium Cheung, and Underwater Camera Operator Steve Speers (who is a Minnesota cameraperson). – Photo by Andrew Messer

Remy, cinematographer Radium Cheung, and underwater camera operator Steve Speers (who is a Minnesota cameraperson) – Photo by Andrew Messer

Q: I think the fact that you are focusing on a female combat vet specifically sort of adds another layer of novelty to your film too, because there are so few meaty roles for women as it is. I know that’s what appealed to me immediately, I mean aside from the military aspect of it. And I’m sure it appeals to others as well.

Remy: Yeah, you know I’m a male filmmaker, and for me I didn’t really see a difference. I worked with a very high profile wonderful actress. At one point she was telling us, she was talking to a filmmaker friend of hers: ‘just write the part for a man and I’ll play it.’ And Kate and I in approaching this film, we wrote the part just for a person. It’s complicated… you know she does things that you don’t see women doing a lot of, but that women do. She’s chopping wood, she’s mowing the lawn, etc. She has a husband and then she has the potential connection with another man. She’d get to fight, you know. Not to give things away, but you know, we just wrote it for a good complex character for Kate who is a powerful, physically very strong woman and an emotionally deep actor.

Q: What a great combination, yeah. One of the reviews I read was from Variety, and the reviewer said that it’s kind of rare that you’re not using the method of flashback in this. And so narratively was that something that’s deliberate that you want the story to be in present but of course implies that something has happened in the past?

Remy: Yes. You know it’s interesting it was something that was unintentional in some ways and then became very important to us, as we’re going ahead. We’re going we actually have written an event that happened in the past and that was a factor of time and money that we didn’t get to shoot it. It was something that could happen in a totally discreet location. So we kept it out of our principal photography because our budgetary and time constraints were such that we couldn’t get that, in a way that satisfied me.

And then as we were looking at the footage and telling the story and cutting it, it really felt that there were there so much thing unsaid, I mean this is not a dialogue-heavy movie. Having that event felt like it would be incredibly limiting to what the audience’s understanding could be. I’ve since spoken to someone who made a comment about that very fact and said they appreciated that [the trauma] wasn’t pinpointed to one event. Kate was very interested in these people who were exposed to war time, in a foreign country for a year or 18 months, you know that kind of heightened experience is ongoing, extended… so what is that like. So to sort of narrow it down to say it was this one thing that created this condition is very limiting. There’s lots of things. Her relationship with a man in the film is very fraught. Maybe there was something there. She has some physical impact from the war that she carries. Maybe it’s that. We didn’t want to limit it. Plus, to shoot that [scene], it’s as if we’re trying to be a different kind of movie than we were. I had a scene that I could do that I could accomplish. We had it written and I knew how I was going to shoot it. But I eventually thought, you know Hollywood has made war movies. We’ve seen The Hurt Locker, American Sniper, we’ve seen a lot of great depictions of these wars and wars in general. Let’s trust that the audience has these associations and we’ll bring them in with that.

Remy, Kate, and producer Julie Christeas of Tandem Pictures – Photo by Andrew Messer

Remy, Kate, and producer Julie Christeas of Tandem Pictures – Photo by Andrew Messer

Q: I think that’s what they appreciate this reviewer appreciate. It’s like they just you know don’t spoon feed too much. You don’t want it to challenge the audience.

Remy: Yes, we wanted to respect and challenge our audience. I think some people find that infuriating because they want to be told something. And I think some people have really appreciated it. We had a guy on one of our screenings, he said I felt so smart watching this movie because I kept on being forced to make connections, to connect the dots. As a movie goer, I’m usually quite a head of a particular film. I don’t know that anybody is surprised by what happens in our movie, in terms of the sort of outcome insofar as you really know what the outcome is. And you don’t, we don’t make it very explicit.

Q:  For this film, did you talk to anybody like from the military field to make sure you get certain things right?

Remy: You know we did a lot of reading, we did a lot of watching. We also have a female Marine veteran on set with us. But we had already written the script by then and she was great in terms of validating a lot of the right thing. I sent it to that vet but because we weren’t shooting the war. It was a creative, imaginative exploration of the thing. So we watched some wonderful documentaries like the film Lioness, The Invisible War to see stories about female marines. A lot of really wonderful books, there’s one by Sebastian Junger called War. But we wanted to sort of imaginatively take the hallmarks and the symptoms and the sort of generalized story of what those people experience and then imagine it into our location and our story. We wanted it to feel authentic and we’ve been very gratified. You know, Kate spent four months in physical training for the film. We wanted to have a sense of authenticity but we also wanted to not be telling a certain story. And hopefully that that approach is the thing that makes [the subject] a little bit more universal.

Q: I see. It’s a character driven piece so it’s not about a specific event. 

Remy: Exactly. It’s a lot about the performance, about [Kate’s] understanding of it. There’s some of her own experience which she was able to bring to [the role], but she’s also just a very skilled actress and has a lot of technique.

Q: Last question. Is directing something you want to keep doing in the future?

Remy: Yeah I would love to get the opportunity to do it again. I have a couple of different projects in the beginning of story development and we’ll see which one I can get more traction on. I’m very much hoping to direct it again before too long. Maybe another film, and I’d love to direct episodic television actually. There’s a lot of exciting, wonderful thing happening in that medium, but it’s a difficult thing to get into. It’s hard to get a movie made, but at least it’s a discrete thing and in some ways it’s up to you.

Q: Yeah that’s true, but at the same time now it seems like there’s a blending between TV and films now, it’s not a big divide like was before. Lots of TV directors doing major, big-budget films and the other way around.

Remy: Yeah, who knows. We’ll see where it takes me.

Kate Nowlin


Q: What I got from Remy’s was that the story grew organically from the location in Lake Vermilion. So I’m just curious how do you approach that role of the female Marine. I mean do you have any military experience or or was there any research. Do you have to do more to prepare?

Kate: Oh god no, no military experience before. Tremendous research.

Q: How long did it take you to do that? I mean did you have somebody on set?

Kate: I feel like I’m still doing research. I started when we started writing in October and we were shooting in August. I was doing research the whole, the whole time we were writing and learning about the subject matter, which evolved organically. Once we just decided on the subject matter, we felt obviously a real responsibility to this type of story, as we would to really any story. But this one was, we realized it was a large undertaking and something I knew nothing about, from a strictly military standpoint. In terms of dedication and exploration of her strength and her vulnerability, and just being a human being, I think there’s ways in which we can all relate. So the military part, I did my homework and then eventually yes I met I spoke to a number of servicemen and women. There’s one in particular, a woman named Amber Patton who’s a Marine herself.

Q: Is her last name spelled like the famous general?

Kate: Yes Patton, like the general. She’s a Marine veteran, USMC got her in. And she was on site. We met here in Minnesota and then we offered her I said ‘would you read the script and consult with us?’ We had some questions and we talked about some story points, and then I said ‘what are you up to this summer?’ As she was interested to get more into it. I mean she was in the film industry but she wanted to keep working on that, and so we said if you want a job, we’d love to have you on our set as a production assistant. So she came on as a production assistant but obviously she served as a consultant. She just was like my right hand she was, an assistant to me and in many ways and in the creation of the story.

Q: That’s cool because you’d want to make sure that the story is truthful and accurate and she’d have the experience.

Kate: Well there were there were things that we could research, but there were very practical things about like how the uniform is worn, things like that. She’s been an invaluable part of the process, and she’s still you know, we’re still close and and she was an invaluable part of the team.

Kate in a scene on Lake Vermilion

Kate in a scene on Lake Vermilion

Q: As for Lake Vermilion, it seems that you both wanted to shoot the film there and it works because there’s a lot of veterans there, so that makes sense.

Kate: Yes, there’s a tremendous amount of veterans. There’s a woman in the town, when we were just considering that idea [of filming at Lake Vermilion], she had just been named soldier of the year by Army Times in Cook Minnesota. And so we kind of thought… even though we didn’t tell her story but we wanted to give a little nod to keep moving in that direction.

Q: Remy mentioned that you both wanted to add to the conversation about the condition of PTSD. Tell us a bit more about that.

Kate: We want to add to the conversation about the traumatic aspect, but also really more about the female soldier, the female Marine. It’s rarely depicted even though they make up about 15 percent of our military, 20 percent of our reserves. So they should be more represented. I think as we were writing there was this great New York Times op-ed piece saying why aren’t we telling the story [of female soldiers] in film. So we were like, ‘we’re writing something, we’re doing our part, we’re trying to do our part!’ So it was so interesting how it evolved, but yes we were trying to add to a conversation about a lot of things… women in media, how women are portrayed in the media. The female fighter, the female warrior, representing them, representing veterans issues, across the board. You know, so we kept sort of packing the bag.

Q: That’s great. I just think female driven narrative is still rare, which you would think by 2016 that’s not the case. But yet it is. That is why on my blog I always champion female-driven stories, especially independent stories. I mean if it’s something like Wonder Woman or whatever, those already get the studio backing, but the smaller stuff I really want to support. So I’m grateful you are working on this. 

Kate: Yes me, too. You know, it wasn’t our intention, conscious intention when we started. I mean we know Romney wants to direct and I was a resource of his. But it evolved into that and it became a very significant to us too. And I was aware that there was a lack, just in the scripts that I was being presented or the roles that I would read. I was just like ‘can we create someone full-fledged, someone who’s fully-dimensional… who happens to be a Marine.

Q: I was just wondering as I was reading the cast list. Your character is described only as Our Sergeant. Is it deliberate that there’s no specific name given to your character?

Kate: Yeah it is. It is deliberate. We want her to stand in for a lot of people like her, to be able to sort of let the audience project a lot onto her. Honestly, creatively, as we’re working the name just never came. We never had a name and it always just felt like that there’s a sort of space around her character so people could project whatever they want to. Not necessarily a name but that she is, in some ways, unaccounted for and that she’s nameless.

Q: So the fact that she is nameless is almost a message in itself.

Kate: I think so yeah I think so. And we actually, there was one point when we made her uniform. So on the one hand she’s standing in for someone’s wife, sister, daughter, we keep that open. Once you’re in the military and you have a title, that’s an important part of the identity. That comes first, in that mindset you’re committing your life, you know, to serving your country and then that is an important part of the identity. So that felt like that was going to be an important part, maybe more important than the personal identification. So when we she was in uniform at one point we created a name tag that we chose to be nameless in Norwegian because I’m Scandinavian and there’s a lot of Scandinavian people in Northen Minnesota. At one point we did choose a name. So it was Navnløs, which is Norwegian for nameless.

Kate, 1st. Assistant Camera Yousuke Kiname, 2nd AC Chris Savage (Minnesota based) – Photo by Andrew Messer

Kate, 1st. Assistant Camera Yousuke Kiname, 2nd AC Chris Savage (Minnesota based) – Photo by Andrew Messer

Q: Now this question, it’s up to you whether you want to speak to this or not but given the subject matter, I was wondering if you have dealt with something similar to your character and whether that impact your approach to the role or not.

Kate: No I really haven’t. Not to that degree. But I think as we’ve said, trauma is a universal experience. It doesn’t have to be military-related. So I can understand it, but no, I have not dealt with it, nowhere near anything she had going through. It’s interesting because I’ve been asked that question a lot and I think that. I guess my answer is no, but I understand what I understand about struggle. It’s my job to be able to portray someone who’s different than I am. That I have to investigate and find my way in the way that I can to create something in an authentic way. I think there are universal things that we know and that we share and feel as human beings and that’s my job to explore that. Because I was writing her, co-writing and co-creating her, I was able to track her so to speak.

Q: Cool. So how was that process when you’re writing. Co-writing with Remy. I mean how do you do that division work goes?

Kate: I loved the writing. We really just sat across the table from each other and sort of plotted things out. Once we got off the note cards you know at first we put everything on no cards and then we sort of sat down. We each had a computer in front of us and we talk through scenes, we created dialogue. I would sort of think about her voice when she did speak. Remy was really good at writing the sort of what we saw, the breakdown the scenes. The emotional journey, in some ways was hard to do because it was all brand new. And because we were doing it in such a really a relatively short period of time. it’s hard to kind of understand or quantify what that experience was. We were just sitting down every day for three hours doing what we could.

Q: How about the physical training. I mean you kind of have to bulk up a bit don’t you? I mean you probably already are a fitness enthusiast.

Kate: Yes I’m naturally athletic. Being forced to play sports growing up and I was a dancer as a kid and all of that. And then of course in graduate school or whatever you do a lot of movement training and stuff. But no, I work from probably about three and a half months, not a tremendous period of time but I work six days a week. I worked with a trainer once a week starting in May, June, July, August, so about three and a half months. That’s on how to get into the role, that’s a mindset. I had to transform my metabolism, my metabolic system. I was inspired by how strong they are and the rigors that they go through in order to become a Marine. And so I knew I had to do something I hadn’t done before and get a kind of mental toughness and physical strength also to set an example, to represent how strong these women are. I just want to create a different portrait of a female in the film. Something we don’t get to see very often.

Q: So now that you’ve written a film that you start in, what’s next for you? Do you want to keep doing it, being a content creator on top of being an actress?

A: Absolutely. Oh that’s you can’t go back. I feel like it’s it’s a hard thing to come back from once you start oncw you start making your own stuff. It’s more challenging in ways but you get to say more… it’s a much more dimensional creative space and I find that incredibly gratifying. I have never been happier from an artistic point of view as when I was making this thing, as we’ve been making this thing. As hard as it’s been, it’s so fulfilling so. And I found that over the course of it that I have things I’d like to say. I really enjoy the writing. Not like a soapbox, but I think that there are I think that there’s room for all sorts of stories and I’m drawn to what I’m drawn to. I like the research, I like immersing myself in new world from scratch.


THANK YOU so much Remy & Kate for chatting with me about Blood Stripe!

Hope you enjoy the interview! If you’ve seen Blood Stripe, I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review: The Accountant (2016)


It’s kind of an interesting choice for Ben Affleck to do this movie in the same year as Batman V Superman. Some people call this one as an unconventional superhero movie about an autistic accountant, and it wouldn’t be wrong as there’s certainly traces of Bruce Wayne in the film protagonist, Christian Wolff. Heck even his name sounds like a superhero alter-ego, though I whisper to my hubby during the movie ‘Bruce Wayne wouldn’t be caught dead in a Ford F-150!


From the time Christian was a boy, he’s a whiz with numbers. The movie opens with him working on a puzzle at a child psychiatric office with his parents and his younger brother. There’s constant flashback on him being taught by his military dad, and the film makes a point to contrast him with his more ‘normal’ sibling. Though he works at a small town CPA office in a nondescript strip mall, of course our protagonist is more than meets the eye. As it turns out, he’s been offering freelance services to some of the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations. The head of the Treasury Department’s crime unit, Ray King (J.K. Simmons), has been investigating Christian for some time and with the help of his new protégé Marybeth (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), he’s closing in on him.

accountant_simmons_robinson One of the most amusing moments is when Christian takes on a job with a robotics company where he meets Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), an accounting clerk who discovered a discrepancy involving millions of dollars. Naturally the accounting whiz only needs a single night 15-years worth of bookkeeping to figure out the exact sum. Kendrick’s vivacious personality is a fun contrast to Affleck’s forlorn and subdued’s character, though the supposed ‘romance’ between the two can only be described as awkward. Yes Christian is supposed to be socially impaired but the scene comes across as completely weird that it takes me out of the movie. Too bad Kendrick’s role is actually pretty small here as the movie could use a bit more of her dynamic energy.


The concept is actually interesting but the overwrought script by Bill Dubuque (who also wrote the tedious The Judge) packed way too much into a 2-hour film. There are countless flashbacks that become repetitive real fast, especially when practically every single character gets a backstory. The scene when King talked about his encounter with Christian could’ve easily been trimmed down considerably as it threatens to grind the movie to a halt. The way Marybeth investigates Christian also plays out like an episode of Law & Order or CSI. This is the second film from Gavin O’Connor I saw, the first time being Warrior which I think is an excellent drama also involving a pair of brothers. Can’t say I’m impressed with his work here, it made me think if the film would’ve been better had Affleck himself had directed this.


The third act is when we get Batfleck vs. Punisher, as Jon Bernthal played the head of security of the company Bat… er Christian is hellbent on taking down. Somehow it escaped me that Affleck has played Daredevil once too, so the fight scene at the end is also Daredevil vs. Punisher! Ok so as a superhero fan, the casting makes the mano a mano more amusing than it otherwise would, but the twist might actually harken memories from BVS, though it’s not quite as insipid as the ‘Martha’ fiasco. I just think it’s so on-the-nose that it took the thrill of finding out the twist and it’s actually quite cringe-worthy the more you think about it. I do like Bernthal here though, no doubt he’s great in action scenes but his character is actually not devoid of personality. At least he gets his chance to shine briefly unlike John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor whose talents are largely wasted.


Overall I feel that this movie has a lot of potential that’s not fully realized. Just as some teachers would say to students that they’re not applying themselves, I feel the same about this movie. Despite all that clutter and sluggish pacing, there are some entertaining moments, hence my generous rating. That scene where we first see Christian in action at a farmhouse involving two hired goons is probably my favorite part in the movie. I guess I have a thing for nerdy superhero and this is practically Affleck’s version of Clark Kent. I read somewhere that Warner Bros wants to create a franchise out of this movie. Meh, that’d be so ill-advised given how incredibly bloated the superhero genre has been, and really, we already have Affleck playing a sullen, wealthy, bad-ass superhero who clearly has issues.


Have you seen ‘The Accountant’? Well what did you think?

Spotlight on 10 great documentaries – and they’re all playing at 2016 TCFF!


Just a few days aways until the seventh Twin Cities Film Fest begins on October 19! The 11-day cinematic marathon, running October 19 – October 29, will showcase 100+ films. It’s definitely great to be a film lover living in Minneapolis!

I’ve blogged about some of the films I’m super excited about, but I wanted to talk about the documentaries specifically, as 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, in fact when I went to the SHOWPLACE ICON THEATRE in St. Louis Park this weekend, the seats are really picked over so don’t delay.

Get your tickets soon!
Click on each documentary title that’ll take you to its respective page on TCFF site.


Here they are in alphabetical order:

Actors of Sound w/ Boom Up

  • October 29, 2016 10:15 am
  • Runtime: 112 min

Director/Producer: Lalo Molina

ACTORS OF SOUND: From footsteps to bone cracks, Foley artists bring films to life with their imaginative sound effects.

I always love learning about the various aspects of filmmaking and foley artists are one of the unsung heroes in the filmmaking process. This sounds like a fun insights into a world we rarely see, but one we’d definitely notice if not done properly.

Beyond The Thrill w/ The Unrelenting Charlie Davies


  • October 24, 2016 5:15 pm
  • Runtime: 76 min

Director: Jason P. Schumacher

Skydiving isn’t just a hobby, but a sport and a lifestyle. These unique athletes compete in the relatively unknown world of competitive skydiving. The Unrelenting Charlie Davies: Charlie Davies was the most promising young striker in professional American soccer until a fatal car accident in October 2009 derailed his career and threatened his life.

I’m afraid of heights so skydiving is one of those bucket-list type of activities I wish I could do one day. But I always get a kick out of living vicariously through people who dared to do these kinds of extreme sports. This one offers something inspiring beyond just the thrill of the sport, and that’s what a great documentary should be about.

The Eagle Huntress

  • October 24, 2016 6:15 pm

Director: Otto Bell
Runtime: 101 min

The Eagle Huntress follows Aisholpan, a 13-year-old girl, as she trains to become the first female in twelve generations of her Kazakh family to become an eagle hunter. Narrated by Daisy Ridley.

I didn’t know there is such a thing as an eagle huntress, so this film immediately intrigues me. Per IMDbStar Wars: The Force Awakens star Daisy Ridley saw an early cut of this film and loved it so much that she wanted to be a part of it. She is now credited as an executive producer on the film. No doubt this will be an eye-opening and awe-inspiring glimpse into an exotic part of world we rarely see.

Free Cece


  • October 29, 2016 2:45 pm
  • October 29, 2016 3:15 pm

Director: Jacqueline Gares
Runtime: 87 min

CeCe McDonald survived a brutal attack, only to be incarcerated for defending her life. After an international movement to free her, CeCe emerges as a leader to interrogate the prison industrial complex and inspire women to fight back when attacked.

lavernecoxThe title isn’t just a name of the film but also the call to action for a movement sparked by the incarceration of CeCe McDonald. Following her release, McDonald became an activist for prison reform and against transphobia. Orange Is the New Black star and activist Laverne Cox is the executive producer of the film and she’ll be attending TCFF and participates in the A Q&A session following the two screenings at 2:45 and 3:15 p.m. on 10/29. As timely as ever, the film highlights the struggles trans women face in prison, a topic I’m not familiar with but an important one to learn and support.

I Do?

  • October 26, 2016 8:45 pm
  • October 20, 2016 7:05 pm
  • October 26, 2016 4:20 pm

Director:Joe Brandmeier
Runtime:79 min

A light-hearted documentary on the “crazy” concept of marriage.

As someone who’s been happily married for over a decade, I don’t know if I’d call the concept of marriage as ‘crazy.’ But of course not every marriage is alike and some of the stories would likely resonate with people, no matter what their definition of marriage is. It’s interesting to note that the filmmaker Joe Brandmeier was inspired by his own marriage to former Minneapolis Kare 11 anchor Joan Steffend to make this doc (per Star Tribune).

In Pursuit of Silence

  • October 22, 2016 10:30 am
  • October 20, 2016 5:05 pm

Director: Patrick Shen
Runtime: 81 min

In our race towards modernity, amidst all the technological innovation and the rapid growth of our cities, silence is now quickly passing into legend. Beginning with an ode to John Cage’s seminal silent composition 4’33”, the sights and sounds of this film delicately interweave with silence to create a contemplative and cinematic experience that works its way through frantic minds and into the quiet spaces of hearts. As much a work of devotion as it is a documentary, In Pursuit of Silence is a meditative exploration of our relationship with silence, sound, and the impact of noise on our lives.

It’s so true that silence has become a lost art in our increasingly noisy and bustling world. I know I find myself struggle to just be still and turn off all the ‘chatter,’ so this is a film that I know will challenge me to look at silence and how it impacts my own life.

Iron Will

  • October 22, 2016 7:15 pm
  • October 22, 2016 7:30 pm

Director: Sergio Valenzuela
Runtime: 120 min

IRON WILL is a journey into the minds and lives of Veterans suffering with some form of (PTSD). Narrated by Billy Bob Thornton.

I’m glad that TCFF’s social cause this year is in support of veteran health as it’s such an important issue that impact so many people who’ve given their lives to keep our country safe. PTSD is another topic I’m not familiar with, so I always welcome the opportunity to learn a bit more about it.

My Scientology Movie

  • October 28, 2016 12:45 pm
  • October 21, 2016 5:15 pm

Director: John Dower
Runtime: 99 min

Louis documents his investigation into what goes on behind the scenes of the infamous church of scientology.

One of the documentaries on scientology I still need to see is Alex Gibney’s Going Clear, but I’m curious about the unconventional approach of this one. British documentarian/ broadcaster Louis Theroux features young actors “auditioning” for parts playing high-profile Scientologists. I’d imagine it’d be a hoot to watch the recreation of accounts from ex-members about incidents involving senior church management. It’s certainly a wacky way to get people to understand the way this religious practice operates.

Prison Dogs


  • October 26, 2016 2:30 pm
  • October 22, 2016 5:15 pm

Director: Perri Peltz and Geeta Gandbhir
Runtime: 72 min

A story of love, loss, and redemption; Prison Dogs focuses on the impact of a unique dog training program that gives two of the most marginalized populations in our society, —prison inmates and veterans, —a second chance.

I love the idea of giving incarcerated people find a path to a second chance at life through their love and care of a puppy. The powerful relationship between humans and animals have proven to help restore the lives of those deemed impossible to save, no doubt it’ll be a heart-wrenching and moving film to experience. I have to remember to bring tissues to this one!

Word of Honour: Reclaiming Mandela’s Promise

  • October 23, 2016 3:45 pm

Director: Kiersten Dunbar Chace
Runtime: 73 min

A documentary film that gives voice to a community questioning the future of their mixed-race/indigenous identity in the new South Africa. Blending poetry, landscape imagery, and rare archive footage with a collection of powerful, indigenous voices, Word of Honour is an introspective look into South Africa’s young democracy as well as a meditation on what may be looming on the horizon. (All South African cast and crew)

This is a rare documentary in that it’s a sequel to the filmmaker’s 2009 film I’m Not Black, I’m Coloured: Identity Crisis at the Cape of Good Hope, which explores the legacy of Apartheid from the viewpoint of the Cape Coloured people and their struggle as a mixed-race people to fit into the ‘new’ South Africa. Once again I look forward to learning more about the racial issue that people in the western world (including me who’ve lived in the US for more than half of my lifetime) have known so little about. We mostly hear about the Black/White struggle in South Africa, but nothing about the minority Coloured community.

Stay tuned for my interview with Kiersten Dunbar Chace that’ll be published next week!

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

FlixChatter Review: Bridget Jones’ Baby (2016)


To be honest with you I hadn’t paid much attention to this franchise. Yes I enjoyed the first movie but I wasn’t clamoring to see the sequel. But once I learned that Emma Thompson had written the script, well it changed everything! Her Oscar-winning script results in one of my fave film of all time, the 1995 Ang Lee’s version of Sense & Sensibility. This one also has a Jane Austen connection. Obviously w/ the main male character named after her most famous hero Mr. Darcy, but it’s also got Gemma Jones who played Emma’s mother in S&S as Bridget’s mom.


In any case, we’ve got the bumbling-but-charming heroine back and Bridget is still as endearing as ever. Renée Zellweger remains committed as she was twelve years ago in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, it’s definitely the role she’ll be most remembered for. As the film starts with the song ‘All by myself’ we know immediately what state of mind she’s in, celebrating her birthday all by herself. It’s like a bus, you wait for one for weeks and suddenly two arrive at the same time! So, as luck would have it, within a week Bridget ends up running into a new guy Jack (Patrick Dempsey) and her beloved ex Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) who’s now married to a woman named Camilla. When I said *running into* these two guys, of course it involves more than that as our protagonist got knocked up.

The film pretty much revolves around the question ‘who’s the father?’ Don’t worry, I wouldn’t spoil it for you, though even if you do know who it is, it’s not really going to spoil the movie. The ongoing rivalry between Jack and Mark isn’t as explosive as the ones between Mark and the dastardly charming Daniel (played Hugh Grant), but it’s still pretty fun to watch. It’s interesting how Bridget first saw Mark in this movie at Daniel’s funeral, where they stole glances at each other. Of course Bridget Jones movies has always had a Cinderella fantasy aspect, but they turned it up a notch in this last one. It’s certainly fairy tale territory when you’ve got a hot, rich guy falling for you after witnessing you fall smack dab into a mud, never mind the fact that she wore dainty kitten heels to a Glastonbury music festival!


I think the funniest bits involve Emma Thompson as Bridget’s OB/GYN, especially when she realized Bridget didn’t know who the baby daddy is. I wish she had more screen time as she’s always a hoot to watch. Whilst Thompson is new to the franchise, director Sharon Maguire is back again after directing the first Bridget Jones movie. I’d say this movie still delivers (pardon the pun) the laugh from start to finish, even if the movie itself might be uneven and some of the jokes feel past its sell-by date (Gangnam style? Hitler cats??) It’s ironic given the character actually says those exact words in the movie. But when the jokes are spot on, it’s thigh-slappingly hilarious. From the scene in the birthing class to the moment the two guys have to take turns carrying her to the hospital, they had me in stitches. The slapstick comedy involving a heavily pregnant Bridget and a revolving door is a moment of comedic gold. There’s also an amusing bit when Bridget and her anchor friend Miranda (Sarah Solemani) ended up bringing the wrong guest on the air for their cable news program. I certainly find myself laughing much more watching this than another female-centered British comedy Absolutely Fabulous.

Zellweger’s still fun to watch as Bridget, even though her looks has changed so much since the last movie. It’s not a criticism of how Reneé looks at all. It’s just an observation that she might’ve done something to her face, and a testament of the pressure for actresses in Hollywood to defy aging. Dempsey as the new guy is quite a pleasant surprise to me, as I’m not his biggest fan of McDreamy. He’s actually got some comedic chops and his Jack is quite a contrast to the stiff-upper-lip Mark. Firth’s certainly got that perpetually-exasperated expression down pat ever since he played Mr. Darcy in 1995! He’s still Bridget’s ‘knight in shining armor.’ There’s even a scene of him coming through the fog in his long overcoat to *rescue* the damsel in distress, well it’s just Bridget being locked out of her own apartment. It’s so ridiculously over-the-top but in a cheeky kind of way.


The supporting cast is great all around, from Bridget’s parents (Jim Broadbent and Gemma Jones), and her trio of friends (Sally Phillips, Shirley Henderson and James Callis) are all back albeit briefly. There’s a funny cameo in the beginning of Ed Sheeran but I actually didn’t recognize him as I don’t really listen to current pop music.

I laughed quite a bit watching this, so all things considered, this sequel is still riotously entertaining. The cast look like they’re having fun with this, especially Zellweger herself who’s still fun to watch as Bridget. I still think sequels are generally extraneous, but if you’re gonna do one anyway, better make it worth your while. I actually don’t mind watching this again when it’s out on rental, it’ll make for a fun girls’ movie night😉


Have you seen ‘Bridget Jones’ Baby’? Well, what did YOU think?


Counting Down to 2016 Twin Cities Film Fest! Spotlight on the eclectic indie films I can’t wait to see


TCFF is less than a week away! Those who’ve been reading my blog for a while knows I’ve been covering TCFF since its inception seven years ago. It was only a 5-day festival and it was split between two different locations in Minneapolis. Well now TCFF has made its home at Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON Theatres in St. Louis Park, and this year TCFF will also feature a second screening series at the IFP Theater in St. Paul.

I’ve finalized the movies I’ll be watching during the 11-day film fest. I’m just thrilled that there’s quite an eclectic lineup we’ve got this year, practically there’s something from every genre. I’ve blogged about some of them on this lineup post, but below is the movies what I’m excited about.

Before we get to that though, here’s TCFF’s Preview Video highlighting some of the studio films showing this year …

The perk of blogging for the film fest is that I could watch as many films as I could (yay!). Of course it’d still not be possible for me to see every single film, but I have my pal Sarah Johnson to help me review stuff again this year which allows me to do interviews and support indie filmmakers!


Full Film Schedule & Trailers at TCFF website


So here are the list of films I can’t wait to see… I’m going to start with the Opening Night film and then list it alphabetically:

Blood Stripe


  • October 19, 2016 5:30 pm
  • October 19, 2016 8:30 pm (SOLD OUT)
  • October 28, 2016 3:00 pm

Director: Remy Auberjonois
Runtime: 87 min

A female Marine veteran, battling unseen wounds from her recent service in Afghanistan, flees her suburban life in search of solace and escape in the North Woods.

I’m thrilled that I’ll be going to the 5:30pm screening of this film. I had been looking forward to this since my friend Kirsten Gregerson (who has a supporting role in the film) told me about it a year ago. As you know, I always champion female-driven films and Blood Stripe is co-written by its star Kate Nowlin, and the film won the U.S. Fiction Award from L.A. Film Festival. The film is filmed locally in MN at Lake Vermilion!

Stay tuned for my interview w/ the husband/wife team Remy Auberjonois and Kate Nowlin next week!

Check out the clip below:

After The Reality

  • October 28, 2016 2:30 pm
  • October 21, 2016 7:10 pm

Director: David Anderson
Runtime: 87 min

A contestant on a Bachelorette style reality show is thrown into turmoil when the sudden death of his father forces him to quit the series prematurely and reconnect with his estranged sister at the family cabin.

This sounds like an intriguing comedy drama, featuring a Glee reunion of sort w/ Matthew Morrison and Jane Lynch!

The Architect

  • October 26, 2016 6:15 pm

Director: Jonathan Parker
Runtime: 95 min

When a couple sets out to build their dream house, they enlist the services of an uncompromising modernist architect who proceeds to build HIS dream house, instead of theirs.

I have to say I was immediately intrigued by this when I saw James Frain in the cast! He’s a terrific character actor from Yorkshire UK who’s been in countless of TV shows and films, including the latest obsession of mine The White Queen as Lord Warwick. I also love the two great comedians Parker Posey and Eric McCormack, so I can’t wait to see this!

The Babymoon


Click on image to view trailer

  • October 28, 2016 5:10 pm
  • October 22, 2016 12:30 pm

Director: Bailey Kobe
Runtime: 99 min

In the adventure-comedy The Babymoon, a husband in a fragile relationship tries to impress his pregnant wife with a luxurious and romantic babymoon vacation to the most beautiful and exotic country imaginable, which places the couple in the middle of a poorly-planned political revolution!

From its press release: This star studded and well-known cast brings a multitude of talent and relatable emotion to the big screen. The Babymoon features Shaun Sipos (Vampire Diaries, Melrose Place), Julie McNiven (Mad Men, Supernatural), Jessica Camacho (Sleepy Hollow, Dexter), Michael Steger (90210), Mark DeCarlo (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, Jimmy Neutron), Phillip Garcia (Telenovela, Fuller House), and Kelly Perine (Drew Carey, The Parent ‘Hood).

The premise sounds really intriguing too! Sounds like a perfect date night movie for anyone in the mood for some fun adventure at the movies.

Burn Country


  • October 29, 2016 8:20 pm

Director: Ian Olds
Runtime: 103 min

As a former “fixer” for journalists in Afghanistan, Osman (Dominic Rains) finds asylum in a small California town. Promised a job as a crime reporter for the local paper, and a home with his best friend’s mother, the town sheriff (Melissa Leo), Osman is ready to settle in. But, when the job falls through, Osman finds himself restless and looking for action.

His attempts to get to know the area lead him to develop friendships with an elusive local actress, Sandra (Rachel Brosnahan), and a charming local troublemaker named Lindsay (James Franco). But, when a dead body turns up and Lindsay goes missing, Osman must face the possible evil lurking just beneath the surface and the depths of his new home’s darkness.

One of my fave films at TCFF last year also featured James Franco: The Adderal Diaries. The premise of this one really intrigues me, and I’m looking forward to seeing Dominic Rains‘ performance, as he won Best Actor in US Narrative Feature (then called The Fixer) at Tribeca earlier this Spring (per Variety). Melissa Leo also has a supporting role here and she’s a terrific actress!

Claire In Motion

  • October 28, 2016 4:45 pm
  • Alternate Screening at IFP (10/21 8pm)

Runtime: 84 min

When Claire’s (Breaking Bad‘s Betsy Brandt) search for her missing husband leads her to an alluring and manipulative graduate student, she uncovers a world of secrets that threatens to shatter her family.

Here’s another female-driven film (written & directed by a pair of female directors too!) I’m excited about. The film premiered at the SXSW Film Festival and recently Breaking Glass Pictures has acquired North American rights to the mystery drama. (per Indiewire)


Funeral Day

  • October 29, 2016 10:30 am
  • October 20, 2016 3:00 pm

Director: Jon Weinberg
Runtime: 79 min

Scott thinks he might be dying. Not at all an uncommon thought for Scott, but today the lump he believes he found “down there” might actually be real. Today also happens to be the day of his friend Ken’s funeral. ­ Funeral Day is a darkly funny movie about a man who skips his friend’s funeral in an attempt to start living his own life to the fullest.

Now this sounds like a dark comedy that serves as a male health PSA! The filmmaker raises awareness in collaboration with the Testicular Cancer Society.

From its press release: A full cast of experienced and recognizable talent include: Tyler Labine (Deadbeat, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil), Tygh Runyan (The upcoming Versailles, Stargate Universe), Suzy Nakamura (Dr. Ken, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Horrible Bosses 2), Dominic Rains (Best Actor award winner at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival for his role in Burn Country, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Loner) and many more. Funeral Day is written by Kris Elgstrand, an award winning screenwriter, whose most recent film, Songs She Wrote About People She Knows, premiered at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.

June Falling Down

  • October 20, 2016 2:30 pm
  • October 28, 2016 7:25 pm

Director: Rebecca Weaver
Runtime: 115 min

A young woman returns home to Wisconsin for her best friend’s wedding – one year after her father’s death.

This sounds like a personal and heartfelt story about loss and friendship that everyone can relate to. As someone who’s lost a parent early in my life, the story certainly appeals to me.

From its press release: June Falling Down was made primarily by a two-person crew – one of whom was the writer-director-lead actress. What begins as a quirky, homespun movie with a mixture of local Door County, Wisconsin actors and non-actors, reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Slacker, over time reveals itself to be a film of surprising depth and poignancy, a meditation on grief and growing up.

Stay tuned to my interview w/ Rebecca Weaver!

Miles Between Us

  • October 23, 2016 12:00 pm

Director: Andrew Hunt
Runtime: 91 min

A father and daughter who have been estranged by divorce for twelve years find themselves on a trip across the country that becomes a more complicated journey than they imagined. It’s a story of pain, hope, healing, and redemption.

I had the pleasure of chatting with the lead actor Dariush Moslemi during the filmmakers interview taping a few weeks ago. I was so inspired by his conversation that it made me look forward to his film even more. I enjoy faith-based stories where the spiritual aspect is organic to the story and that it’s not about spewing a certain agenda. Sounds like a great film to take your whole family to.

No Light and No Land Anywhere

  • October 27, 2016 1:50 pm
  • October 29, 2016 1:10 pm

Director: Amber Sealey
Runtime: 75 min

Grieving her mother’s death and her own failing marriage, Lexi (Gemma Brockis) boards a plane from London to Los Angeles in search of the estranged father who abandoned her when she was three-years-old. Based out of a seedy Hollywood motel, she follows a tenuous trail of breadcrumbs, beginning with his aging former in-laws, collecting numbers and addresses in the hopes that one will lead to her father. Along the way, she establishes other unexpected connections: her father’s ailing former second wife (Deborah Dopp), her bitter half-sister Tanya (Jennifer Lafleur) and her caregiver girlfriend (Jade Sealey), and two local barflies (David Sullivan and Kent Osborne). A stranger in the City of Angels, Lexi’s reckless searching leads to cautious discoveries in this atmospheric and introspective quest.

Another film screened at L.A. Film Festival that won some accolades! This film won The LA Muse Jury Special Mention award. Written and directed by Amber Sealey, it also featured a large female ensemble cast, always a plus in my book!


  • October 25, 2016 7:30 pm

Director: Dan Glaser
Runtime: 93 min

Three estranged foster brothers rediscover the ruins of their childhood kingdom “Oxenfree”…and face down the monster living within.

There’s something about this comedy fantasy about three brothers that immediately appeals to me. I grew up w/ two brothers and let’s just say we have a rather unusual childhood, so I think I can relate to this story.

Trespass Against Us


  • October 27, 2016 8:00 pm

Director: Adam Smith
Runtime: 100 min

Trespass Against Us is set across three generations of the Cutler family who live as outlaws in their own anarchic corner of Britain’s richest countryside. Chad Cutler (Michael Fassbender) is heir apparent to his bruising criminal father, Colby (Brendan Gleeson) and has been groomed to spend his life hunting, thieving and tormenting the police. But with his own son, Tyson (Georgie Smith) coming of age, Chad soon finds himself locked in a battle with his father for the future of his young family.

I almost didn’t mention this film when I initially published this article as I didn’t think it was an independent film. Well it certainly falls under the category of British indie, which was recently acquired by A24 for its US rights. It’s definitely one of my most-anticipated films at TCFF. The pairing of two Irish thespians Brendan Gleeson and Michael Fassbender gets my attention straight away, and it looks like a gripping family gangster flick set in a British countryside.

For Horror/Thriller Fans…

Now, most of you know I have too feeble nerves to handle horror, but since is close to Halloween, naturally there are quite a few horror films playing at TCFF! Here’s a sampling that you should check out, click on the link below the posters for more info!

Follow | The Eyes of My Mother | Lake Runs Red

October is going to be the best movie-watching month for me. If you live in the area, I hope you’ll make time to check out TCFF!

What do you think of these movies, which one(s) interest you most?

Everybody’s Chattin’ + John Wick: Chapter 2 trailer


Happy Tuesday, or if you’re an eternal optimist, happy-three-more-days-until-Friday!😀 My hand is still not well yet, apparently it’s NOT Rheumatoid Arthritis, it’s something w/ a fancy name: Extensor Tenosynovitis. Heh, it’s really annoying, I have to wear a splint daily which makes typing a chore. I might have to do MRI in a couple of weeks if it’s still not better by then.

In any case, it’s time for some community links… so here we go!

Ahhh I love Autumn… it’s my fave season. That’s why I LOVE Alex‘s latest quiz post

Michael reviewed the classic Hitchcock Strangers On A Train

… whilst Keith just reviewed the New Zealand comedy I can’t wait to watch: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

A new blog I recently discovered, The Double Take, just reviewed Deepwater Horizon

Jenna & Allie reviewed Bridget Jones’ Baby which I also enjoyed (my review should be up later this week!)

The latest HBO show Westworld has got everyone talking, check out Margaret‘s recap of episode 2 (we’re gonna binge on it in November when most of the episodes are available!)

Speaking of TV, Getter just posted about The Fall season 3.

Since it is Halloween month, lots of sites are dedicating a month of horror…

Dell just reviewed Scouts Guide to Zombie Apocalypse which actually sounds like a hoot…

… and Steven just reviewed Bride of Frankenstein

Now on to the sequel I can’t wait to see…

Though generally I prefer new, original stories, once in a while came a movie so fun I can’t help wishing for a sequel. Well, John Wick is such a movie and it seems that people are quite um, taken by this action franchise as there’s reportedly John Wick 3 in the works even as the first trailer just dropped!

Well, you don’t mess with Keanu, the seemingly meek and mild-mannered man who can spontaneously combust whenever his beloved dog is threatened. The trailer promises even more action and Keanu being as lethal as well as bulletproof as Neo! We’ve got the same director, Chad Stahelski, as the first one, and the movie looks just as stylish done on a modest budget (reportedly the first film was done for only $20 mil). Oh and speaking of The Matrix, gotta love the Neo + Morpheus reunion w/ Laurence Fishburne, woo hoo!

johnwick2_laurence johnwick2_keanu

I love the teaser poster of the hero being measured for a suit. Per HitFix, Keanu told the New York Comic-con crowd that “I really liked putting this suit back on and doing what John Wick gets to do… He’s a guy that’s really fighting to be free.” He’s just so perfect for the role and he makes John Wick so watchable!


The Rome scenery looks gorgeous too. Not quite a Roman Holiday though… no rest for the wicked I suppose. Well let’s hope John gets a bit of some relaxing vacation in the Eternal city before all hell break loose and he puts an end to his enemies’ dream of an eternal life on this earth.

John Wick Chapter 2 is out a day before my birthday on February 10, so hey, nice to see something exciting released in the *dead months* of Winter!


What do you think of the John Wick 2 trailer? Are you as psyched as I am? 

FlixChatter Review: The Magnificent Seven (2016)


I gotta admit, I’m not much of a Western fan. Though interestingly enough, I’ve liked three western remakes in the past decade: 3:10 To Yuma, True Grit and then this one. Confession: I have NOT seen any of the original films. Now, people who have seen the original films would likely have a different opinion about the remake. For me, I guess I get the benefit of seeing the story for the first time, with nothing to compare it with.

The main draw for me to see this is the cast. Reportedly director Antoine Fuqua pitched the film to financiers with ‘Denzel Washington in all black riding a horse.’ Well if I were one of those financiers I’d definitely say ‘hell yeah’ to that, and that is quite a sight to behold. As with a lot of Westerns, well those I’ve seen anyway, we see the lone hero riding into town on his horse before we finally see his face. It’s interesting that Denzel being Black in that era naturally drives extra attention from townsfolk, even more so as he goes into a saloon. He’s definitely got the natural charisma, and here he’s got that cowboy swagger to boot!


In the opening scene, we see a merciless and cruel industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (a slimy Peter Sarsgaard) terrorizing and murdering people in the tiny town for their land and mines. Poor Matt Bomer barely lasted past the opening credits! The first half pretty much is a recruiting process as Denzel’s Sam Chisolm gathered enough men to fight against Bogue and his men. First one he recruited is Josh Faraday (a great name that fits Chris Pratt nicely), a strapping cowboy w/ a devil-may-care attitude. Next  are Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his partner in crime Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), tall-dark-and-handsome Mexican outlaw Vazquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), skilled tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) and lastly, Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Each member of the awesomely-monikered gang has their own special skills, and given that Fuqua employed actors of various races, the skill is tailored to their heritage. Billy Rocks is a knife-wielding expert and Red Harvest is a master in archery, etc. but of course all of them are adept with guns as well. Out of the seven riders, naturally Denzel is my fave. Pratt looks like he’s having a blast here and I really like the dynamic between Hawke and Lee as the unlikely BFFs. I also couldn’t help swooning over Garcia-Rulfo, I sure hope to see more of Mexican actor in the future.

I have a great time watching this thanks to the eclectic cast. Apart from the calm and wise Chisolm, they look like they could be killing each other too and the banters are pretty fun throughout. Naturally this is not a character-driven piece, so details such as what exactly happened to Robicheaux is unclear. The only one with somewhat of a backstory is Chisolm, which isn’t revealed until the very end. Given that it’s 2016, writers Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto updated the story with a strong woman in the core of the conflict. Emma Cullen (newcomer Haley Bennett) isn’t so much a damsel in distress, as she actively seeks out Chisolm to help avenge her town and she refuses to just sit and watch the battle unfolds. I think the weakest link here is Sarsgaard who is more annoying than menacing. Even the last mano-a-mano is rather lackluster as he barely hold a candle to Denzel in terms of charisma and screen presence.


The action and shootouts are what one would expect, peppered with humor and one liners, mostly from Pratt. Some of the action is preposterous, as some of the heroes manage to stay alive despite being shot several times but they can take down their enemies with a single bullet. But hey, I was expecting a fun action comedy instead of a deep, story-driven piece, so I’m not exactly disappointed. What it lacks in genuine suspense it’s more than made up by the well-staged action and stunning cinematography. I sure hope Mauro Fiore‘s name will come up during award season as he’s done amazing work here that made me wish I had seen this movie on IMAX! He’s a longtime Fuqua collaborator who’s also the DP for Avatar.


I have to mention the fantastic music as well. The late James Horner wrote seven pieces of the score before he died, so this was his last project. His wonderful score still has a bit of the iconic theme by Elmer Bernstein, and I love that they used the rousing original score (which I called the Marlboro score as it’s used in its commercial) at the end of the movie. I’m definitely going to do a Music Break on it as my hubby and I’ve been listening to the soundtrack all weekend!

I’m glad I saw this movie and it’s one I don’t even mind seeing again. I can’t tell you if it’s as magnificent as the original, but if you’re looking for a fun ride full of entertaining characters, you could do far worse than this remake. In fact, my hubby and I are contemplating about seeing this again on an IMAX screen, it just might be the first Western I’m willing to see twice on the big screen!


Have you seen this movie? Well, did you like it more or less than I did?

FlixChatter Review: The Girl on the Train (2016)


When this project was first announced, I was hoping I’d finish the book by the time the film comes out. Well I didn’t get to the book, but I was still anticipating this one, largely for the female-driven story.

Comparison to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (which I reviewed almost exactly two years ago) is inevitable, given that both involve a missing person and is told from a female perspective with some mental, emotional turmoil. Reading the character descriptions in the novel, where the protagonist Rachel Watson is described as ‘not beautiful and can’t have kids,’ it seems that the stunning Emily Blunt, who’s actually pregnant with her second child during filming, doesn’t seem to fit the role. That said, I think Blunt did a terrific job in making Rachel a believable train wreck (pardon the pun). She rides the train every day and passes by the same neighborhood, a leafy, posh Hudson River Valley where she used to live with her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux).


Rachel still can’t reconcile with her past and she drinks away the blues, filling up her plastic water bottle with booze whilst she voyeuristically watches Megan Hipwell from the train. In Rachel’s eyes, Megan lives the life she’s always dreamed of. A beautiful woman married to a handsome, rich guy who seems to love her, as they’re shown being constantly lovey–dovey. But one day, Rachel sees Megan kissing another man and she goes berserk. It’s as if something snaps in her and she somehow felt *betrayed* that Megan would stray.

Watching this film makes me want to pick up Paula Hawkins’ 2015 best-selling novel, as surely there are tons of story/character nuances that are simply lost in a feature film. Certain internal things, such as the moment Rachel got upset by Megan’s infidelity, is conveyed visually by her lashing out in the bathroom of Grand Central Station. While her chronic drinking problem might’ve made her prone to destructive behavior, this scene made her seem like a deranged, violent person.


Though the film did manage to keep me engrossed throughout, thanks largely to Blunt’s performance, the narrative feels disjointed. I don’t know if it’s meant to make the audience empathize with how the protagonist is feeling but it can be quite frustrating. Director Tate Taylor (who directed The Help with a multi-narrative plot) adapts the film from Erin Cressida Wilson‘s screenplay. Her last script was Men, Women & Children, which I wasn’t at all entertained by, though this one is far more watchable by comparison. I was rather skeptical when Taylor signed to do the film, as I was expecting someone more like David Fincher who made Gone Girl such a gripping and visceral film that’s also wildly entertaining. The Girl On The Train is a dark and somber tale, but the film itself could’ve been less drab.


Performance-wise, I find it odd that we’ve got a British actress playing the protagonist when the filmmakers moved the story from London in the novel to NYC. She keeps her British accent throughout though it’s never clear where she’s actually from. In any case, Blunt approaches the role with razor sharp precision, not just by looking unglamorous but she also embodied Rachel’s tormented peace of mind. Newcomer Haley Bennett as Megan has the most screen time out of the supporting cast. I think she has some screen presence, but at times I find her scenes too melodramatic. Later we find out her life isn’t so dreamy after all, and she too has a dark past that haunts her, but yet I can’t find myself to sympathize with her. To be fair, none of the privileged people who love to indulge in their own misery is easy to root for.


The rest of the characters are pretty much one dimensional. Rebecca Ferguson‘s good as Tom’s second wife Anna, but her acting skills seems underused here. Luke Evans is all rugged perfection as Megan’s husband Scott but he seems to be more eye-candy than anything. Another handsome actor, Venezuelan Edgar Ramírez, seems oddly cast here as Kamal Abdic, who’s from Serbia or Bosnia in the book, but he’s speaking Spanish in the film. Ramírez seems charismatic enough but his character is so boring it barely made any impact. I also have to mention Lisa Kudrow as Tom’s ex boss Amanda whose role is basically a cameo, but an important one.


Lastly, there’s Tom the antagonist, who actually seems untrustworthy from the start. Initially, the only image of Rachel comes from his point of view and she’s portrayed as a truly unhinged woman with drunken, violent outbursts. I think Theroux a skilled actor but there’s not much to work with when he’s given a paper-thin character who’s more of a caricature douchebag than a menacing sociopath. I’d think in the novel there’s more to his character than presented here?

The reviews haven’t been kind for this, sounds like another case where the book is much more superior than its cinematic adaptation. The novel might be a ‘thriller that shocked the world,’ but I don’t think the film lives up to that. I do think it’s still worth a watch, especially if you’re a fan of Blunt who proves herself once again that she’s a versatile and skilled actress. The movie itself isn’t quite as thrilling as it could’ve been, though I wasn’t exactly bored by it. It works more as a psychological drama than a taut whodunit murder mystery.


Have you seen ‘The Girl On The Train’? Well, what did YOU think?

Guest Review: The Dressmaker (2016)



The Dressmaker tells the story of an outwardly successful middle-aged woman named Tilly (Kate Winslet) who returns home to rural Australia, after having been ostracized from the town as a young girl. Most of the small town, including her own mother (Judy Davis), is not pleased to see her back. Regardless, she makes her entrance as colorful and fiery as possible and forges a place for herself despite the whispers and hostility of the townfolk.

The cinematography is completely gorgeous. The story is set in Dungatar, a part of Australia that evokes a sense of Oklahoma circa the dust bowl or the kind of Kansas that only exists in the Wizard of Oz. The barren dirtiness of the landscape is showcased in stark shots of decrepit buildings, dirty streets, and naked trees against empty skylines. This very deliberate setting eventually becomes the backdrop to characters wearing bold, colorful dresses in a way that seems to visually applaud fashion for being powerful and interesting while also admitting that high fashion might just be completely ridiculous.


I hate to be cliché about it, but The Dressmaker is an emotional rollercoaster. The fulcrum of the story is the relationship between a mother and daughter, but there are competing sub-plots of a murder mystery and a romance which occasionally usurp the story of mother/daughter storyline entirely. The overall tone of a black comedy allows the film to push boundaries and upset audience expectations regularly. Moments that the audience expects to end happily wind up being the introduction to the next tragic theme and the darkest of moments are interrupted by well-placed moments of comedy.

The talent in this film is extraordinary. Every character is a little bit larger than life, caricatures that are just reasonable enough to make an audience feel in on the jokes without ever suspending their disbelief. The script lends itself to stand out performances by all, but especially by Winslet, Davis, and Hugo Weaving.

One of my favorite casting choices was Liam Hemsworth as Winslet’s love interest. Hemsworth is a solid fifteen years younger than Winslet, so the casting is an obvious response to Hollywood’s habit of usually casting love stories with large age differences in reverse. Much of this movie’s strength lies in similar subtle feminist moments: the film reverses the genders in many of Hollywood’s storytelling habits. For instance, it is a widely criticized reality that women exist almost exclusively as love interests or mothers in Hollywood. In The Dressmaker, the opposite is true. The primary characters of the story are women and most of the men exist only in relation to their partners. Despite this, The Dressmaker does not exist in a parallel universe where gender roles are reversed: women are still primarily homemakers and men have careers. It is merely the shifting of perspective that gives us a world made up of women with deep personal lives.

The Dressmaker also excels in its acknowledgement of women who suffer at the hands of men, often their own partners. One woman’s husband is a notorious cheater who drugs and rapes her regularly. Another woman’s husband is a wife-beater and refers to most of the women in the town in a derogatory way, which the script suggests is probably because of his own perversions. The lovely thing about all the dark stories about abuse is that even though they are gross, they are understated in a way that is very true to life.


There is a love story in the middle of the movie, which briefly disrupts the other narratives and might be the best tongue-in-cheek criticism of Hollywood romance that I have ever seen. Winslet’s character avoids her romance with Teddy (Hemsworth) for as long as possible, invoking every manifestation of the hard to get narrative that we have been fed for the last fifty years. Tilly runs barefoot down a dirt road, only to be swept of her feet by Teddy when he chases her down in his car. Tilly measures a half-naked Teddy for a suit, getting tantalizingly close while he explains that the woman he loves (her) does not want him. Teddy wakes up one night with Tilly standing at his bedside with a lantern. The couple sits atop a silo with a picnic dinner and they stare at the stars together. Every last overdone and gooey detail is there. Every romantic moment is just overplayed enough that the audience understands that everyone involved in the creation of this story understands exactly how syrupy it is. It’s still cute. We’re just finally getting the story from a group of writers who know that it’s a little too cute and have fun with that.

The value of a female-led narrative film like this one cannot be understated. Directed by Australian filmmaker Jocelyn Moorhouse, this is a film to see in theaters and in groups. The gasps and groans and laughter of the people in the theater with me were literally of a different tenor than usual, which was a wonderful, surreal experience. If you want to see a film that completely understands (and really probably loves) Hollywood, but wants to approach it with a sense of humor and an inkling for progress, this film will not disappoint. The acting is superb, the story is full of surprises, and the jokes are both subtle and in your face. This is not a film to miss.


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 ‘The Dressmaker’? Well, what did you think?