TCFF Roundup – Part 1 – A Late Quartet, Things I Don’t Understand & Problem Solving the Republic Reviews

Whew, this week has been quite a whirlwind! I saw a total of 13 films and attended four educational panels in the last nine days. Most of the films have been good to excellent, so even with a couple I didn’t really enjoy, it’s still a nearly a perfect record.

TCFF certainly has a super packed schedule all the way down to the homestretch. The nine-day film fest has come to a close last night with LUMPY, the Minnesota-shot dramedy by MN-born writer/director Ted Koland, starring Justin Long and Addison Timlin who were present at the panel earlier in the day. I didn’t get a chance for a one-on-one interview with Long, though I did meet briefly with Ted Koland and congratulated him on his film.

Justin Long & Ted Koland at the LUMPY panel – photo by James Ramsay

Below is a recap and review from Friday,


Saw two very good films today, they couldn’t be any more different from each other yet both have intriguing stories about people dealing and coping with a dark chapter in their lives.

Things I Don’t Understand

Written/directed by David Spaltro and starring Minnesota-born Molly Ryman. I was very impressed with the character-driven story and also Molly’s excellent performance. June and I had the pleasure of interviewing David to talk about his film and also listened to Molly talk about her character Violet during the ‘Strong Women in Independent Films’ panel.

Thanks to David for sitting down with June and I at the ShowPlace ICON lounge to give us some insights about his film. Check out the full interview.

Meeting both David and Molly are easily one of the highlights of covering the film fest for me. David told me TCFF is the 16th point of their film tour all over the country, going to one film festival to the next. In fact, right after the panel, David was off to the airport to the the Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita Kansas. They’re both so talented with so much going for them in their careers, yet they’re so down to earth and so fun to talk to.

Congrats to both David and Molly on the success of Things I Don’t Understand. Here’s my review of the film:

This film centers on grad student Violet who’s studying near-death experiences which led her to actually attempt suicide. After her failed suicide attempt, Violet becomes withdrawn and somewhat morose, plus she also has to deal with being evicted from the Brooklyn loft she shares with her two roommates. At the advise of her therapist, Violet reluctantly visits a terminally ill girl in a hospice and their unlikely friendship becomes her catharsis to start appreciating life again.

I sympathize with Violet right away though she’s not exactly likable at first. She’s sardonic and lacks self control, but you know deep down she’s a good girl. Spaltro frames her story well and surrounds her with interesting characters. Her two room mates, artist Gabby (Melissa Hampton) and a gay French rocker Remy (Hugo Dillon) also have personal issues of their own, but you could say they’re the comic relief of the movie. And then there’s the cute but mysterious bartender Parker (Aaron Mathias) who befriends Violet but refuses her advances.

It’s intriguing to watch Violet’s journey throughout the film, how her relationships with Parker and Sara (Grace Folsom) who’s dying from bone cancer changes her as the film progresses. Despite the dark theme though, director David Spaltro peppers the film with fun and lighthearted moments, so it’s definitely not a complete downer.

Like many of us who seek to figure out the basic questions of the meaning of life and what happens when we die, it’s certainly a thought provoking film that David has explored with care. One thing though, I feel like the themes of faith and spirituality aren’t explored as deep as I’d like, it merely scratches the surface and lacking conviction. That said, I appreciate that it’s at least being talked about and I’m also thrilled that David has crafted a compelling and multi-layered female character in Violet, something we need to see more in Hollywood.

I’m not surprised that this film has been winning all kinds of awards in various film festivals. It’s a bummer that somehow the movie appears very dark in the theater screens, as the cinematography in NYC looks beautiful. The day after the film screening, David told me that it wasn’t supposed to be so dark, and he gave me access to re-watch the film again.

Kudos to David once again and to Molly and Grace for their affecting performances. The scenes between Violet and Sara are very moving without resorting to overt sentimentality. I look forward to David’s upcoming film Wake Up in New York, hopefully it’ll be shown at TCFF again!


A Late Quartet

When people think of Christopher Walken and Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s films this year, they’re likely going to think of Seven Psychopath and The Master, but I’m glad I’m able to see both of them together in this smaller independent drama. The story centers on members of the world-renowned string quartet Fugue, comprised of Peter (Walken), Robert (Hoffman), Juliette (Catherine Keener) and Daniel (Mark Ivanir). Soon we learn that the oldest member of the group, Peter, is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which inevitably shakes the group in ways none of them could imagine.

In the wake of Peter’s medical revelation, the rest of the members deals with their own turmoil. Robert and Juliette faces a marital stride due to infidelity, on top of Robert’s pent-up rivalry with Daniel, as he’s no longer content with being the second violinist. To make matters worse, Daniel suddenly discovers his once-repressed passion involving a romance that certainly brings even more complication to the already-fragile group. One thing for sure though, the group wants to stay together as Fugue has been an integral part of their lives for more than 20 years.

This is director Yaron Zilberman‘s first feature film and what a great venue to display the fantastic acting prowess of the talents involved. Nice to see Walken in an understated role, he’s the most ‘normal’ guy in the group (imagine that), but he plays his part brilliantly. Hoffman’s role is much more explosive as Robert deals with unbridled ego and lust that threatens to break his marriage. Keener is always wonderful to watch, she definitely has the elegance and grace to play Juliette though her character is the most enigmatic of the four to me. Last but not least, the Ukranian actor Ivanir also plays his part of the über perfectionist violinist who’s been so obsessed with his music that he hasn’t had time for love. Imogen Poots has quite a memorable part as Hoffman & Keener’s daughter, she definitely holds her own against her much older, more experienced co-stars. Her scene with Keener in particular is quite gut-wrenching.

Though both contains beautiful classical music and also has a similar name, A Late Quartet is quite different in tone from Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet. This one feels like it’s got more depth in terms of character development and deals with such raw emotional situations that stays with you long after the credits. It shows that beneath such flawlessly-played music, there are real and flawed people behind them, struggling through change and relationships like the rest of us. It’s a compelling picture of humanity, and it’s such a treat for the senses not only for the musical arrangements, but also the lovely cinematography. I adore the gorgeous scenery of New York City in the Winter time, everything just looks so romantic! I highly recommend this for any fan of the actors involved, I sure hope this won’t get lost in the shuffle when it opens in limited release sometime in November.


Problem Solving the Republic

Unfortunately I couldn’t see this one as it’s showing at the same time as A Late Quartet, but I’ll definitely try to see it when it’s available on VOD. It’s a Minnesota production and shot on location in Minneapolis, even just looking at the bizarre genre-bending tagline made me curious enough to see it. You can check out the TCFF interview with writer/director Elliot Diviney on TCFF Youtube Channel.

Below is the review by Emery Thoresen:

Problem Solving the Republic is a Minnesota-made political satire, that uses musical numbers and slap stick humor to tell its story. The humor turned out to be more entertaining commentary than knee slapping jokes. The movie had a charm akin to the campy-horror-movie genre, in that it isn’t for everyone, or, it doesn’t try to appeal to everyone, but viewers who do subscribe to the genre will have a good time watching this. It reminded me of Super, both movies incorporated  superheroes and animated inserts – like a comic book. They both share a similar sense of humor, but Problem Solving the Republic isn’t nearly as violent, super natural, or sad as the Rainn Wilson feature.

I started to get restless in the last couple minutes, it could have been because I had been seeing so many films all day, but it was more likely due to how long it took to wrap the story up. Overall it was a charming movie, the bloopers before the credits were memorable, along with the snap shots of the cast that rolled with the credits. I really enjoyed the characters and actors they chose.

During the discussion afterwards, the director and producer talked about the difficulties they encountered in creating a local film with a small budget, in less than a year. Through their brief explanation they kept pointing to people and mentioning names of contributors, it turned out that a surprising number of people in the audience have had a hand in making this film – which made the laughter and reactions much more genuine.

The TCFF was the premiere, it will be showing at The Riverview Theater in November, but in the mean time pre-ordering a copy online is always an option. Remember, it is always good to support local talent, and this could be a warm-up to election day.


Check out the trailer below:

Stay tuned for Part II with reviews of Saturday films
and also my Top Five Favorites from the film fest!

Thoughts on any of the films above? Well, I’d love to hear it!

43 thoughts on “TCFF Roundup – Part 1 – A Late Quartet, Things I Don’t Understand & Problem Solving the Republic Reviews

  1. A huge applause for your amazing coverage Ruth!!

    It’s amazing how you manage to cover all the movies. I admit I only read the ones with good title, not all of them.. .I know ho thick that sounds 😉

    1. Thank you, Nov! Ahah, that’s ok that you only read parts of it, I appreciate you reading my posts. It’s common that whenever I cover a local event the comments drop drastically 🙂

      1. Hahaha…I’ve been there A LOT as you know I don’t cover movies only….and it gets worse as I am leaning more and more to British TV Shows rather than the American ones

        1. He..he.. that’s ok Nov, that’s what I love about your blog as it’s personal. I just read that interview w/ Cillian, thanks for sharing that, he’s such an intriguing actor, not to mention gorgeous! 😉

    1. girlproducer

      The trailer doesn’t do it much justice. That’s why when I went to see it I wasn’t sure if I would like it. It turned out to be pretty good. Although I do have to say some of the jokes are MN Politics related. So that part could be lost on other audiences.

  2. Your coverage of this is extensive Ruth. Interesting to read all of this and there are some movies I’m interested in checking out (for example the one with PSH and Walken).

  3. PrairieGirl

    Sorry to have to say this, but Things I Don’t Understand should be titled “A Movie I Don’t Understand Nor Care Much About.” I couldn’t relate to any of the characters until the film was almost over. I think it was only the last 15 minutes or so that I finally started to see them as people I could care about. I don’t mind dark films, but this one takes “dark” to a whole new level, literally, as in so much of it was shot at night with as little light as possible. For me, the characters just got lost in it all. Good thing there was major eye candy in the form of Aaron Mathias as Parker the bartender. But hey, at least I scored a free ticket for it ;-p

    1. girlproducer

      I see what you mean by dark. But the actual film wasn’t meant to be that dark, there was a problem with the calibration of the screen so it wasn’t shown the way it was shot. And yes I think Ruth would agree with you that Parker was definite eye candy.

      1. PrairieGirl

        Hey there June, I would have never guessed that there was a problem with the screen calibration. That’s too bad, because it really detracted from the viewing experience. I think I’m one of the few, however, that let it get in my way… I see there is consistent praise for TIDU.

          1. I think David was trying to talk to the projector about the darkness of the film but there was nothing he could do. It was distracting at times, esp when the scene involves Aaron n i couldn’t make out his face 😉

        1. Yeah I mentioned that in the review but I posted it after you commented already, he..he.. I like it more than you, I thought it was entertaining n also moving. Aaron is indeed gorgeous, i wish he were at TCFF also, ahah.

  4. Good work on covering TCFF, Ruth. You came through once again! It’s nice to be able to read your posts every day when I’m unable to join the festivities even once ahah! 😦

  5. Ted S.

    None of these films really appeal to me so I’ll probably skip them. Funny though the actress in the movie Problem Solving the Republic, she’s one of the actresses who showed up to audition for my movie. I don’t know if you remember, she’s the tall one who can’t really act, lol.

    1. Ahah that’s what I thought too Ted, but I wasn’t sure. She is beautiful though and perhaps the role wasn’t very um, challenging in this one 😉

    2. Mari

      Whoa, these kind of snarky, unnecessary comments don’t belong on a TCFF linked website. Sounds as though you haven’t even seen the film?

      1. Hi Mari, sorry if the comment comes across as snarky to you but here on this blog people are welcome to express their honest comments about any film/actor, good or bad. Btw, Ted was just speaking on his personal opinion based on his experience during an audition, not her performance in the film.

      2. Ted S.

        Whoa, I didn’t know there are rules against expressing my opinion on a movie blog. If there are any rules please show them to me. And no I haven’t seen the movie but I have no desire to see it. Like Ruth said, I was just saying how bad that actress audition was when she came to audition for my movie.

    1. Thanks Josh! Ahah, I think I’d be pulling my hair out if I had seen more movies, but 13 and maybe even a couple more are still manageable. A Late Quartet is excellent, definitely worth seeing.

    1. Thanks Mark! Some of the films I’ve reviewed are so small that they’re not on people’s radar, I’m glad to bring ’em to light in some way. Glad to hear you’ll check ’em out 🙂

  6. Nice job on seeing this festival through, Ruth! Also very happy to hear that A Late Quartet did not disappoint. Really looking forward to checking that out.

  7. I’ve been loving your coverage of TCFF, Ruth! Out of the ones you mentioned here, I’m REALLY looking forward to seeing A Late Quartet. Hoffman is one of my absolute favorites, and Keener and Walken are pretty good as well.

    1. Thanks Fernando, I really appreciate your support throughout the coverage. I really like Walken’s understated performance here but the rest did a fantastic job as well.

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