TCFF Day 2 reviews: ‘Gladiators: The Uncertain Future of American Football documentary, We Are What We Are and Honeymoon Suite shorts

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I’m not a huge fan of football but I watch enough of it as I sometimes accompany my husband watch a Vikings game. Even a casual watcher would realize how violent American football is, but just how violent? Well, this documentary sure is an eye-opener if you will. I read a comment how this documentary ‘tackles the issue of brain injury head-on.’ Can’t say it better myself and filmmaker Todd Trigsted and writer Michael Oriard gave us a well-researched and well-crafted about an intriguing subject matter and made something that’s thought-provoking and educational in an entertaining way.

I like how the documentary gave us a history of America’s favorite spectator sport from the late nineteenth century and the huge part it plays in the educational system as well as the economic and social aspect. It’d be unthinkable to see this sport being banned, though it did came close a few times in the past for being too violent. The numbers of victims the ‘gladiatorial’ sports claimed year after year is staggering, not just the professionals in the NFL but also in schools and colleges throughout the country. Thus the title of the doc is so fitting as it’s really no different from the deathly games of the Roman republic where gladiators fought to the death. The only difference is the time it took for the players to finally succumb to it. I guess it’s inevitable that players would get injured, we know it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when.’ Yet few knows the danger of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, which refers to the long-term brain damage that occurs from multiple concussion or brain injury. It’s nuts to learn that a high percentage of players actually get back playing again after being unconscious on the same day, when the doctors say they should at least be off the field for at least a week after that happens!

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Through talking heads of former NFL players as well as medical experts in the field, complete with all kinds of data and imagery of the brains of people with CTE, I don’t think I can look at American football the same way again. It’s similar to how watching The Cove documentary would not make me want to go to SeaWorld again, I don’t know if I’d let my kids play football. Of course it’s not as simple as that and this film isn’t just blindly against the sport. In fact, some of the former NFL players talked about how all the surgeries and pain they went through is worth it because they got to play a sport that they love. Even one of the brain surgeons talk about how all his boys play Football even though he knew the danger of the sport.

I think people who enjoy American football or even those who are only a casual watcher like me should see this documentary. Unlike some documentaries that often felt tedious and bogged down by all the statistics, Gladiators always kept me engaged and entertained. The score by bassist Michael Manring adds so much to the tone of the film, which is key in making an entertaining film in general. I don’t even mind watching this again when it’s out on Netflix as I’d love my hubby to see it. It’s perhaps one of the best documentaries I’ve seen to date that strikes the perfect balance between enlightening and entertaining.


4.5 out of 5 reels

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We Are What We Are is a horror film about a family with a secret that spans hundreds of years. It stars Bill Sage as Frank Parker, the father of a family of three who’s wife has just unexpectedly died, as well as Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner who play the daughters of Frank Parker who are also grieving to start the film over the loss of their mother. Another major player in this film is Michael Parks, recently acted in Red State and Django Unchained who plays Doc Barrow, the local town’s doctor who is starting to uncover the Parker’s family secret.

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This movie is spectacular not just as a horror film but just a film to experience. It keeps the viewer guessing as to what exactly is going on with the Parker family. Even when the secret is revealed the film still has some shocking moments most audience members won’t see coming.

The movie takes place in a small town with forest all around and has just been hit by a flood. The film has a very gloomy look to it. The cinematography is very well done. The film’s gloomy look adds to the tone of the movie as the plot unravels to reveal itself. The shots taking place at night are lit well enough to know and understand what is going on, and keep the gloomy look to the film in a sort of blue and green color palette.

Bill Sage puts on a great performance as Frank Parker. The sympathy factor on whether to love or hate his character is all over the place throughout the film, due to his performance and understanding of the character. He’s able to hook the audience early on due to his grieving but slowly as more is revealed about himself and his family, his performance becomes more awestruck as well as the opinion of whether he is a good guy or a bad guy.

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We Are What We Are is a great thriller to enjoy. It does have a bit of violent content but if you can deal with some gore, this is a horror movie to experience. Through its mysterious plot, engaging characters and performances and the gloomy tone, We Are What We Are is a rarity among horror films as this film is willing to keep going darker and darker in its plot and content. Whereas some other horror movies would let up before the audience gets too uncomfortable, We Are What We Are will keep most audiences uncomfortable in certain scenes for much longer than what they are accustomed to experiencing.

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4 out of 5 reels

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Honeymoon Suite

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Honeymoon Suite is a Chinese short film about a hotel manager and an American guest who requires extra care due to his situation. This movie, though a short film, has a plot that should not be spoiled in its nature, and should be seen with fresh eyes. The movie has excellent prosthetic special effects and a clever script for the story its telling. It uses the short film form very well and while some great short films usually make the viewer want more of that story in a feature film, Honeymoon Suite gives you just enough to make the viewer satisfied. A must see among short films.


4.5 out of 5 reels

TCFF_reviewer_Adam


So that about wraps up our Day 2 reviews. Any thoughts about any of these films?

TCFF Day 3: Women in Film panel & film highlights: Forev, Winter in the Blood, Truth or Dare & More!

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It’s another gorgeous Fall Day in the Twin Cities… and with TCFF underway, all is well in the [cinematic] world 😀

Here are some of the film highlights of Day 3 from our hosts Doug Sidney and Ingrid Moss:

My day starts with the Women in Film Education Panel, featuring three filmmakers/talents whose films are premiering at TCFF:

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Jessica Cameron, writer, director, producer, actor, “Truth or Dare”
Hannah Campbell, co-producer, actor, “Screwed”
Molly Green, writer, director, “Forev”
Meighan McGuire – moderator

Check out their bio at TCFF site. I’m so glad every event now takes place on the Festival Lounge right at the Showplace ICON Theatre venue. It’s so convenient for everyone involved.

Here are the films my blogger staff and I are going to catch tonight:

FOREV

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October 19th at 4pm
Special Guest: Molly Green – Director
Sophie and Pete are kind of friends, but mostly they’re just neighbors. On their way to pick up Pete’s sister Jess from her sorority house, a joke about getting married escalates and their car stalls out. Forev is a romantic comedy about how far you can go without saying what you mean.

Hot and Bothered
(short film, screening before Forev & Screwed)

Special Guest: Jake Green
Desperate Singles get all tangled up when a compulsive internet dater loses track of her accounts.


Winter in the Blood

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October 19th at 6:30pm and 11pm (additional screening due to popular demand)
Special Guest: Chaske Spencer, Actor (Twilight) and Alex Smith, director

Virgil First Raise (Chaske Spencer) wakes in a ditch on the hardscrabble plains of Montana, hungover and badly beaten. He returns home to his ranch on the reservation, only to find that his wife, Agnes, (Julia Jones) has left him. Worse, she’s taken his beloved rifle.


Bahamian Son

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October 19th at 6:45pm
Special Guests: Andrew Melby – Director, Reggie Henderson-Writer and StarToki Wright-Actor
An independent feature film, based on true events from the life of the writer Reggie Henderson. The story follows Kevin as he sets out to find his father, whom he hasn’t seen in more than thirty years.

Stay tuned for my interview with Andrew Melby which will be posted together with the review!

Truth or Dare

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Saturday October 19th at 9:15pm
Special Guests- Jessica Cameron-Director, Ryan Kiser-Actor, Brandon VanVliet – Actor

Six friends find internet stardom after making truth or dare videos that go viral. They go by the names, “The Truth or Daredevils” and are surrounded by a huge media storm from their latest video. Everything is fun and games until their number 1 fan decides he wants to play…


TCFFTickets

Ticket Prices are as follows:
General Admission $10; Opening/Closing Gala $20; Centerpiece Gala $20; Sneak Preview Galas $20. Festival Passes can also be purchased: Silver $50 for 6 films; Gold $70 for 10 films; or Platinum $120 for 12 films + 2 tickets to Opening, Closing or Gala. (Silver and Gold Packages do not include Opening, Closing or Gala Tickets).

For more information and to purchase tickets visit www.twincitiesfilmfest.org.


So there you have it folks! Which of these films capture your attention?

TCFF Day 2: Trust, Greed, Bullets and Bourbon: Review and interview with Director Scott Kawczynski

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It’s two for two once again on Day 2!

After watching a well-crafted and eye-opening documentary Gladiators: The Uncertainty of American Football, it’s time to see the heist thriller I’ve been looking forward to. In between films, I caught up with director Scott Kawczynski right after his red carpet interview.

TCFF_ScottKawczynskiConnecting with filmmakers/talents is always a highlight at TCFF, especially someone as gracious as Scott! He flew here right from another film festival in Orlando promoting his film. Best of luck with your film, Scott, thanks so much for coming down to visit us and for making the film!

Now check out the review … and the Q&A questions below:

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Trust, Greed, Bullets and Bourbon: Bourbon not needed

I love a good heist movie. With a stellar cast and smartly written script, “Trust, Greed, Bullets and Bourbon” is sure to be one of my favorites at the Twin Cities Film Fest. Mixing elements of “The Italian Job” with “A Simple Plan,” the story begins five years after the group’s diamond heist and shortly after one of them nabbed in the job has gotten out of jail. They get cryptic invitations to meet at a cabin in the Catskills where they will be given clues as to where to recover the stolen loot. This may be where the “greed” in the title comes in since they all show up.

The movie was very well cast- Max Casella as Tyler, the tough guy in gambling debt (in a “Sopranos” type role…and then I remembered he was in “The Sopranos”), Larisa Polonsky as Samantha, the sassy blonde accomplice, Eric Morris as David, the pretty boy, and Kathryn Merry as Circe, the granddaughter of heist mastermind Franky. I also enjoyed Danny Burstein’s interludes as Hector, the backwoods gun-toting yokel.

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At only about 85 minutes writer Scott Kawczynski’s directorial debut moves along crisply with moments of ironic hilarity. When David tells Tyler in front of the crew, “I can’t even trust a word out of your mouth,” Tyler responds with a confused look on his face, “Of course not. You can’t trust any of us…we’re all thieves.” Another time, as they are dragging a body into the woods searching for the hole they dug, one of them says “It seemed closer earlier.” And who doesn’t love a hit man who searches for extra bullets in his car’s glove compartment?

What could have been a tired conclusion is a pleasant surprise cleverly told so I don’t want to give any more away. A note on the “bullets” part of the title: although there are multiple murders in this movie there isn’t any gratuitous violence as the “hits” are designated by red dots streaking on screen. Maybe this was done because it’s cheaper but it appealed to me because as much as I love heist films, I have never understood movies with violence for the sake of violence. Bourbon doesn’t really come into play- maybe “Trust, Greed, Bullets and Bourbon” just sounds better than “Trust, Greed and Bullets.” There is something to be said for alliteration, after all.


4 out of 5 reels

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Interview with director Scott Kawczynski

1. What was the inspiration for your film? Have you been interested in doing a heist concept?

I’ve always loved heist films, especially heist films that go awry (ex: Rififi, Reservoir Dogs, Dog Day Afternoon). The exploration of the failed heist and how it effects the characters involved was very intriguing to me. You look at the situation, these people were so close to getting away with it, but one detail collapses the entire endeavor.

2. Congrats on being picked as Project of the Day by Indiewire and successfully raised your funding goal on Kickstarter. What was the biggest challenge in getting that accomplished?

Winning Indiewire’s Project of the Week was A pretty big deal. It opened lots of doors in terms of potential distribution for the film down the road, as well as a huge amount of traffic from people that might never have heard of the film.

I handled my Kickstarter differently than most, by raising money after the production was done. The money raised on Kickstarter covered the final aspects of post-production, sound mix and color correction, and the overflow money is going toward distribution costs. So the film was completely finished and locked before i even created the Kickstarter campaign. All costs previous to this, pre-production through post production editing were all self-funded. In the end I believe this was one of the smartest choices I made because I could sell the fact that the film was done and that I wasn’t looking for money to make the film – which seemed important to me for a completely unknown writer/director trying to raise funds. The majority of my funders were family, friends and friends of friends. However, my two biggest funders were people I had never met, and I truly think that having a completed project to show was key to them coming on board. My advice to anyone thinking of doing Kickstarter is to have a goal that is realistic and you believe you can raise.

3. How does the title come about? It reminds me a bit of Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels which is in similar genre. Speaking of which, who are your film/filmmaker inspirations?

In simplest terms, the title words are the basic themes and vices explored by the characters in the film. The shooting script was actually titled Trust, Greed, Beer & Bourbon, but halfway through production we realized there were more bullets than beer. I like the title because it is like a mixed drink, a smidgen of Trust, a couple shots of Greed, a couple Bullets and a whole lot of Bourbon.

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In terms of film inspiration, in addition to the heist films I listed earlier, A Simple Plan, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Rear Window, Rope, 12 Angry, Men, Millers Crossing and Fargo I watched over and over. The Hitchcock films and 12 Angry Men were integral in studying shooting an entire film in primarily a single location.

My list of filmmakers is probably similar to many people interested in similar subject matter: Hitchcock, Tarantino, the Coen Brothers, Lumet. Some newer filmmakers I really enjoy are Rian Johnson, Jeff Nichols, Shane Carruth and Duncan Jones.

4. I enjoyed looking at the pics on your blog on the shoots in NYC. What’s the most memorable moments for you in shooting/working on this film?

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The most memorable moments I had on shooting the film were watching the actors really make the characters their own, and how the characters grew into something better and beyond what was on the page. In general, the production went pretty smoothly, there were no real disasters while filming. It was also really great shaping the story. It was very important to me that the cast and crew be an integral part of making the story as good as possible, so before shooting a scene we would discuss what was about to happen, how it related to the story as a whole and if any adjustments needed to be made.

5. Lastly, you talked briefly about the casting process on your blog, but is there something else you’d like to share about that and how you assemble your crew as well?

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First I should mention that this was an insanely low budget film, you’ve heard of Ultra-Low Budget productions, well, this is a mile below that. So because of that, I had to be very, very conscious of what everything cost. My biggest ally was the script I wrote. The actors loved it. That was huge, especially in getting Max Casella and Danny Burstein to sign on. They loved their characters and wanted to be part of the film no matter what. Dara Coleman I knew from working with him on Ed Burns films in the past, and Eric Morris, Larisa Polonsky and Kathryn Merry were found through auditions – which were done at my house (actually Kathryn’s audition was taped and she posted it for me to review).

The crew all started with my DP Rick Siegel. In the past, I had been Production Designer on a couple jobs Rick was cinematographer on. He has around 30 years of experience and has connections galore. He brought in Mike O’Brien, our awesome sound guy, the two grips and lighting assistant. The final piece of the puzzle was Associate Producer Erik Trinidad, who I have known for years from working in Advertising, he was the glue that kept everyone together.

From there it was beg and borrow. Everyone involved in the production was paid (all at a very reduced rate), but lights were provided at a very discounted price, locations were either free or reduced price (we lived in the house we shot at up in the Catskills Mountains) and everyone pitched in whenever needed. It was a complete collaboration and the essence of independent, super low-budget filmmaking. And it was fabulous.


Hope you enjoy the review and interview! If you’re a fan of heist film or who-dunnit type of thriller, check out Trust, Greed, Bullets and Bourbon when it plays in your area!


Thoughts on this film and or the interview? I’d love to hear it!