Indie Film Spotlight: ‘Virginia Minnesota’ & interview w/ writer/director Daniel Stine

This was one of the films I most anticipated films at this year’s MSPIFF. Of course the fact that it was shot here in the picturesque Lake Superior coastline, but the story about fragmented friendship immediately grabbed me. So imagine my delight when I get a chance for a one-on-one interview with the director/writer Daniel Stine.

We’ve connected via Twitter already (thanks Helen Stine!) so we arranged to meet at the Filmmakers Lounge at MSPIFF office (one of the major perks of also being a filmmaker this year with Hearts Want as well as a press pass holder). It’s definitely one of the most fun interviews I’ve had and certainly a highlight of my MSPIFF37 experience!


VIRGINIA MINNESOTA is now available on Amazon Prime (Prime Video), Redbox, ITunes, Google Play, and other Video on Demand platforms.


Two young women, torn apart by a childhood tragedy, unexpectedly reunite and embark on an illuminating 24-hour journey, where they unlock memories of long-forgotten innocence and what it means to truly believe.

My review:

Sometimes a place in a film can be a character in and of itself. That’s certainly the case here in Virginia Minnesota, captured in such an evocative way by writer/director Daniel Stine. It’s obvious he fell in love with the northern Minnesota coastline, and it shows in the film. But he also filled this road-trip, coming-of-age drama with wonderful human characters who are fun to watch but also relatable.

It opens with Lyle (Rachel Hendrix) driving to the North Shore of Lake Superior, accompanied only by Mister, a robotic suitcase that’s amusing but makes for an unreliable GPS system. She’s heading back to Larsmont Bluff Home for Girls (with troubled families) for a reading of the owner’s will. When one of the four former residents refuses to come for the reading, Lyle chases after her and we find the rebellious Addison (Aurora Perrineau) in Grand Marais. That’s when the real adventure begins.

I’m always skeptical whenever I see films where a lot of things happened in a single day. One could argue perhaps too many things happened in a 24-hour-period here, but yet the two leads managed to keep me engaged and curious to find out what’s happened between them. There are laugh-out-loud moments but overall the humor is not over-the-top and is organic to the story. In his directorial debut, Daniel Stine is able to weave a charming story that’s sweet, poignant, mysterious, and even surreal at times (that theatrical troupe bit comes to mind). The story certainly benefits from the talented cast.

Of course a Minnesota-based film critic can’t review this film without mentioning just how gorgeous the scenery is here. The cinematography by Pedro Ciampolini is absolutely stunning and it can be said this is a love letter to Northern Minnesota. Even the lovely animated sequence that bookend the film is a nod to the Minnesotan folklore and myth in which the plot is heavily rooted in. The music is also wonderful and adds much to the atmosphere of the film. I really enjoyed this movie and I hope Daniel Stine continues to make movies!

Ruth: I’m always curious about what inspires filmmakers in creating their work. Virginia Minnesota especially seems like a personal story, and I love that the story was female-driven. Where did the inspiration stem from? 

Daniel: I’m always inspired by locations first and foremost. When I’m inspired by a place I imagined what kind of characters I can drop into there and what kind of stories come out of that. My grandparents ran a home for troubled boys for about a year or two. It was in a big mansion and my grandfather was a strong lieutenant colonel type. So there were always telling me stories about these kids growing up in this mansion, some of the stories were sad, some were funny, but they’re all inspiring. As a kid I wanted to expand on those stories or tell something that’s kind of similar.

As far as the female-driven thing. I hadn’t thought about my characters being male or female. In the first outline or maybe even earlier drafts, Lyle (Rachel Hendrix) was a guy and Addison (Aurora Perrineau) was a girl, but for some reason it just wasn’t interesting to me, I don’t know why. But then when I saw Grand Marais for the first time, I fell in love with that town immediately. It was in the dead of Winter too so nothing was open. I wanted to do something like Short Term 12, where it was about a person and shot in a single location. So the more I kept driving around Lake Superior, the more I saw of all these incredible places that Minnesota has… Split Rock Lighthouse, Duluth, Silver Bay, and learning about the legends, the folklores…

R: And there’s also a mansion, Glensheen, in Duluth.

D: Indeed, Glensheen. So when we saw that all the pieces kind of come together. Then the story kept getting bigger based on the location. It kind of morphed into a road trip movie, even though it didn’t start that way.

R: Having done shorts in various genres. Is drama the genre you set out to make for your first feature?

Cinematographer Pedro Ciampolini with Daniel and 1st AC Evan Stulc – Photos courtesy of Rushaway Pictures

D: Actually I had a thriller lined up. It was a bed and breakfast thriller. We had big name cast, we even had a location locked up. I moved out of my place in L.A. to South Carolina to get ready for it. But we sort of got a bad deal, some of the money fell short. So we went back to our investors, some of them stuck with me. I said, well, we could wait a few years to get the thriller going. Or I have this other idea that’s simpler, a little bit more in the vein of stuff I’ve done with the short films and some of them ended up putting their faith into that idea. So Virginia Minnesota sort of accidentally became my first feature.

R: So it turns out to be a ‘happy accident’ then considering how well-received the film has been.

D: Yeah, that’s true. And now the thriller script now has a chance to develop. Looking back now I imagine if I had done that one, how badly I’d have screwed it up.

R: I’m curious about the beautiful animated scene that’s in the film. Did you set out to have animation be a part of the film given the plot having something to do with the characters’ childhood?

D: It’s always been in the back of my mind to do something like that, even though it wasn’t in the script originally. I initially wanted to do chapter headings, so perhaps to introduce a certain segment there’ll be an animated chapter heading. But it made it far more whimsical that way. So I did the film without the animation bits and see if the story could stand on its own without it. I think the story does work without the animation but having the film bookended by the [animation of a] childhood drawing it’s a nice way to introduce a child’s perspective and reminds you of what’s important that’s revealed at the end.

R: Now, there’s an amusing bit of a theatre troupe in the film. I learned that you have a theatre background. How has that helped you as an actor and writer/director?

D: I started out doing theater before I started doing film stuff. I almost went to a theater conservatory but I also wanted to do films so I didn’t want to be limited to that. But having done a lot of theater and directed plays, that gives me a bit of a shorthand with actors. They’re very much in the forefront of my mind when I’m making a film, making them comfortable and feel connected to the material, because I know how important that would be for me if I were doing that role.

On the downside, I think I tend to over-write, especially dialog. I’d say the theater background makes me want to write so much dialog. When I saw the final script, I’d say ‘Whew, that’s a long movie!’ So I’ve learned to shave things off. Some of my favorite movies are things like Before Sunrise by Richard Linklater which is just two people talking…

R: Oh I love that one. I mean, I love dialog-heavy films and the dialog is sort of the special effects of the film. 

D: Yeah, but of course it depends on the films you want to make. But back to the question about my theater background, I think it definitely helps me with the actors and what I want them to convey the story.

R: I have to ask you about filming in Minnesota. What’s your favorite aspects about filming here? 

D: The people, hands down. I mean, I know there’s the term ‘Minnesota Nice’ but I think it goes beyond that. People here are so proud to be from Minnesota, it makes you want to be a Minnesotan. I might have to move up here and become one. I think the pride is quite infectious. But then there’s the scenery. You can be up on a lighthouse one second and then you can drive inland, like Bemidji, I mean there’s so much variety of locations. Even in Minneapolis, I don’t feel like I’m in the United States here. I went to school briefly in Monheim, Germany, and it reminds me of that. And I love that it’s a big city with a lot of art. I mean, if you look at the Top 10 things to do while in Minneapolis, so many of them are the different art galleries!

So really it was the people and the great support that we got. It makes me want to come back and do another film, maybe that thriller that I was telling you earlier.

R: Yeah, well there’s a lot of bed and breakfast around here. Especially in the Winter time…

D: Yeah definitely.

R: Let’s talk about casting, particularly the two leads Rachel Hendrix and Aurora Perrineau. How did you find those two actors?

D: Rachel and Aurora are definitely the heart and soul of the movie. We had a lot of submissions came in, we used a casting company in Atlanta. There were about two thousands submissions for each of those roles. Rachel we cast pretty early on based on her audition. She was so much like what’s been described on the page that it was like, ‘yep, that’s her.’

As for Aurora, she came at it from a different angle. Actually, from both of them I learned more about my characters than what I’ve originally written. With Aurora, I had worked with her father, Harold Perrineau, one of my favorite actors. We had done a boxing film together (The Championship Rounds) so I was talking with him about the film and so then I talked with Aurora about it and it just seemed like a perfect match.

R: There’s a certain scene involving a boat in the movie (I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it), but can you talk a bit about filming that day? That must’ve been quite challenging to shoot. 

D: Well, we originally was going to have a rolling, trash can that was burning. But when we got to the set, I was like, no that’d be too subtle, it’s not going to be enough [of an impact]. So we told the producers that we need a bit of spike in the movie, so we had to [spoiler alert (highlight if you want to read it): blow the boat up]. So yeah, we had to do it in one take but we had the fire department there and everything for safety.

R: Your production company, Rushaway Pictures, is a family business. How was working with your parents on this film, the fact that they weren’t in the film business previously? 

D: Well, my dad is a retired army colonel so he handled logistics for 27+ years so it’s a natural progression for him on a movie set. It’s as if he’s meant to be doing that. My mom is a writer. In fact she’s got a book that I’m looking to adapt into a film one day. So both of them are just good with people, they’re good with numbers and all that. So working with them have been such a pleasure. I mean, I don’t really see them as my parents when we’re working together. We’re collaborators and they’re people I obviously can trust.

R: Ok last question. What’s next for you? 

D: Well, I have the thriller I mentioned earlier. But there’s that chicken and the egg dilemma you know. Between getting the actors attached and getting financing, which one you do first. Sometimes you just have to figure out who the investors are before you can start committing to the story that you want to do. So I’ll just see where the wind blows, and we’ll see how this movie does, hopefully it’ll make its money back. So far it’s been well received at film festivals, we’re thrilled about that. Whatever happens, happens. We’re keeping the faith.


Check out the trailer below:


Thanks so much Daniel for chatting with me.


VIRGINIA MINNESOTA is the Opening Night Film of Duluth Superior Film Festival

Wednesday, May 30th
Clyde Iron Event Center
Doors: 7 PM / Film: 8 PM

Director Daniel Stine and lead actress Rachel Hendrix in attendance!

BONUS SCREENING:
Saturday, June 2nd
9 PM at Zinema


Short Film Spotlight: ‘Classic. Becky. Party’ + Q&A with writer/director John J. Kaiser

Just two days away until Twin Cities Film Fest’s MN Shorts Showcase event! Today we’ve got yet another Q&A with a talented MN filmmaker whose film Classic. Becky. Party will be screening on Wednesday night (more info below).

I met first met John at the TCFF Gala in September 2017, thanks to his creative partner Jay Ness (one of the excellent camera crews who worked on my short film Hearts Want). John and Jay are the owners of CutJaw Film Co., a Minnesota-based film production company that’s done a number of short films such as Curse of the Invisible Werewolf and Bobby’s Run Off.

Check out my Q&A on his female-led comedy drama starring Rachel Weber, Larissa Gritti, and Anna Stranz, filmed entirely in Minneapolis.

Becky has arranged every detail for what’s supposed to be the perfect party. The food, the ambiance, the decor is all set, all that’s missing are the guests.

FCInterviewBanner

Q: What inspires you to write Classic Becky Party? The premise sounds quite personal. Was it?

Classic. Becky. Party. really came from an insecurity that a lot of people I think have which is what do you do when you throw a party and no one shows up. It has happened every time I’ve thrown any sort of party. Fortunately none of those have ever been as disastrous as Becky’s party. But it’s definitely a kind of funny kind of sad scenario that lots of people identify with. An empty party is a level of loneliness that audiences can really empathize with.

Becky is the kind of person that desperately wants everyone to think she has her shit together, so it was fun to see how much she could unravel and lower the facade she presents to those around her. Having her sisters arrive to witness her embarrassment just adds fuel to the fire.

Q: You’ve written quite a number of shorts and you often direct your own work. What’s the biggest challenge for you as a director to do that?

The biggest challenge to being both writer and director on a project is you have one less person to bounce ideas off of. Film is a collaborative medium so it’s good to have input from your cast and crew, experts in their field, so when you’re directing your own script it’s even more essential to listen to those collaborators. Of course it’s a two sided coin and there’s something incredibly liberating and fulfilling about taking an idea to the page and then taking that page to the screen.

Q: Who are some of your filmmaking influences? Specifically for dramas.

When tackling a drama I think it’s incredibly important to find moments of levity and catharsis for the audience, so any writer/director that can incorporate that balance into their work is someone that I gravitate towards.

A few filmmakers that come to mind are Billy Wilder, Mike Mills, the Coen Bros., and on the writer front definitely Greta Gerwig and Aaron Sorkin. I’m sure there are a million more, but those are the first that come to mind.

Q:Your film was set in a single location (an apt), what’s the challenges you faced in filming in one confined space like that? On the flip side, what are the main biggest strength?

The biggest challenge of a single location film is finding ways to keep the location feeling fresh. Luckily the loft we filmed in had a few distinct areas, such as the kitchen, the living room, and the dining room. This allowed us several options for us to block out the scenes in. It was also important to keep our characters moving around the space so that the audience doesn’t feel claustrophobic.

The biggest benefit of a single location though is saving on time and budget.  Once we “moved in” to the space we were able to stay put for the two days it took to film.  We didn’t have to worry about loading out and loading in to another location.  Using a single location also brings a theatrical quality to the film. It’s a script that could easily be adapted to the stage.

Anna & Larissa in between takes

Q: I love your three all-female cast. Would you tell us a bit about the casting process? Is it especially tricky since they’re playing sisters?

Top left: Rachel, Larissa & Anna on set | Top right: Filming the lead actress Rachel Weber

The casting process for this film was remarkably simple. I was familiar with the work of Rachel, Larissa, and Anna and knew instantly that they would work well as sisters. From our first pre-production meeting, it was obvious that the three of them shared a rare bond that was going to translate well to the screen. I was more interested in finding three performers that shared chemistry than three performers that looked like sisters. For me it was all about creating a believable relationship and rapport between these characters and Rachel, Larissa, and Anna were an essential part of that process.


This Is Home is screening on
Wednesday May 30th at 7:30 PM

Many filmmakers, cast and crew will be present representing their films and answering your questions.

6:30pm – Red Carpet Interviews and Photos
7:30pm – Screening
9:00pm – Q&A

Selected films include:

  • The Great White Storm – Directed by Jon Thomas
  • Deep Cover – Directed by Keith Langsdorf
  • Bite the Bullet – Directed by Ryan Huang
  • This is Home – Directed by Jason Schumacher
  • Classic.Becky.Party – Directed by John J. Kaiser
  • The Burial Plot – Directed by Chris Fletcher
  • Zomburbia – Directed by Nathan Wold
  • 2Bullets – Directed by Brandi Harkonen
$10 Earlybird*
$12 At the Door

*TCFF MEMBERS RECEIVE FREE ADMISSION!

Get your tickets! »


John is a Minneapolis, MN based screenwriter and film director and co-founder of CutJaw Film Co. His directorial debut, Bobby’s Run Off, premiered at the Twin Cities Film Festival in 2016 and has since screened in multiple film festivals and featured on filmshortage.com.

In 2017, John was awarded a Jerome Foundation Artist Grant in support of his first feature length film Only Dance Can Save Us. Slated to begin production in 2018, aiming for a 2019 release. CutJaw Film Co. is currently working on a sci-fi thriller feature film Dark Cloud, also scheduled to be released next year.


Thanks John for chatting with us!

FlixChatter Review – SOLO: A Star Wars story

Another year, another Star Wars movie. Now that Disney owns pretty much everything, it’s to be expected that they’re going to milk the lucrative SW and Marvel franchise for all its worth. Honestly I haven’t been following much about all the behind-the-scene dramas, apart from the fact that the original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller being fired after several months of production. They still get producing credit but ultimately it’s Ron Howard who gets directing credit as he was brought in for reshoots and finish the movie.

As a casual SW fan, I have enjoyed the newer movies (The Force Awakens, Rogue One and The Last Jedi). So after seeing this one, my favorite is still The Last Jedi, but I really quite enjoyed SOLO. The movie opens with the traditional “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…..” line and we learn that the galaxy is in disarray, ruled by organized crime syndicates competing for the valuable hyperfuel known as Coaxium. On planet Cornellia, Young Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) try to escape planet Cornellia for good and we’re treated a pretty thrilling chase scene. Soon we learn how our titular hero gets his name, in a scene that’s treated rather nonchalantly to make any real impact.

The rest of the movie takes place three years later on another planet. Han (sans Qi’ra) encounters a gang of thieves led by Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrleson) and his cohorts Val (Thandie Newton) and a four-armed alien Rio (Jon Favreau). Soon we learn how Han first meet his hairy BFF Chewbacca. Not quite a meet cute but a hilarious and fun intro to the most famous bromance in the galaxy. I have to say the relationship between Han and Chewy lends to a lot of favorite parts of the movie. There’s such a rush of nostalgia the first time Han and Chewy are on the cockpit together.

Everyone pretty much already loves Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian even from the trailer and he delivers! Glover is an effortlessly charismatic actor, but he also didn’t overshadow Alden and the movie is still about Han’s journey. I do enjoy the banters and rivalry between the two, especially involving their most prized possession the Millennium Falcon. Lando’s droid ‘friend’ L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is quite the scene stealer. A feminist, sarcastic robot with a mind of her own, she’s definitely light years away from the cute and submissive droids we’ve seen in the galaxy. There is one particularly hilarious moment between her and Qi’ra that got the whole theater laughing.

Now, how about Alden as Han? There are reports an acting coach had to be brought in to help his performance. Well, I don’t know if swagger is something you can teach, but I certainly think Alden’s got enough charisma and that devil-may-care smugness you expect from the role. I know he’s got comedic chops from what I’ve seen in Hail, Caesar! but I think he’s versatile enough to be an action star. I think it’s unfair to expect him to behave exactly like Harrison Ford as he’s not yet the Han we saw in A New Hope. There is a moment in the movie where I’m like, ‘yeah I can see how he becomes the sexy scoundrel we know and love.’ I’m glad Alden made the role his own instead of just an imitating Ford verbatim. I also like the fact that the movie gives just enough background story on Han without overwhelming us with details.

The supporting cast are pretty good too. Harrelson is always a fun actor to watch and he’s got that unpredictability the role requires. I haven’t seen Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones, but I can see why she’s cast here. She may seem like a sweet, demure girl at first but there’s also whole darker side of her. Unfortunately the romance between her and Han isn’t particularly memorable here, I mean it’s serviceable at best, not even half as interesting as Han’s relationship with Chewy or Lando. Paul Bettany is suddenly everywhere (like Josh Brolin!) as he was also in Avengers Infinity War, here he plays crime lord Dryden Vos (some cape action going on here as well) who has a history with Beckett. I quite like Rio too, and I wish he had more screen time in the movie.

Overall I had a blast with this movie. It’s a proper space adventure, you can even call it a space heist flick. I enjoyed the high-octane action scenes, specifically the chase scene in Falcon. It’s fun and nostalgic. Howard may not be Hollywood’s go-to action director but I remember enjoying the car scenes in Rush, and I think he did a great job here balancing the action and humor. The story might be on the light side and lacking the profound emotional moments like in The Last Jedi, but I think it fits well in the SW universe.


Well, what do you think of SOLO: A Star Wars Story?

……

Short Film Spotlight: ‘This Is Home’ + Q&A with writer/director Jason P. Schumacher

Going into its ninth year, Twin Cities Film Fest is launching a brand new initiative in its INSIDER SERIES program! As a first-time writer/producer who just made my first short film last year, I’m thrilled to see short filmmakers getting a platform to showcase their work. One of the eight outstanding short narrative films screening in TCFF’s first MN Shorts Showcase is a drama made by Jason P. Schumacher, whom many of you might know as the director behind Hearts Want.

Check out my Q&A with the MN-based filmmaker (who also directed the documentary Beyond the Thrill that’s screened at TCFF in 2016):

A coming-of age-story about a young boy realizing that his parents are alcoholics.

FCInterviewBanner

Q: You’ve said that this is a personal film for you. Would you elaborate on that? Was it based on true events?

My co-writer, Jesse Frankson, and I have known each other since elementary school but never really realized we had similar experiences in our upbringing, when it came to our proximity to alcoholism. The film is a work of fiction, but it includes inspiration from things that happened to one or both of us, or things we’d heard from peers with similar experiences.

I’d also looked at the “Laundry List” created by the organization Adult Children of Alcoholics.  Those who grow up around alcoholics often share similar traits with one another; feelings of guilt and abandonment, an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, suppressing emotions, and also a tendency to also engage in addictive behaviors.  In “This is Home”, the young boy is in the early stages of developing and showing these traits, as he begins to realize more and more that his parents are alcoholics.

Q: The film had a child actor (who was about 10 at the time of shoot), who’s terrific in the role. What was the biggest challenge(s) working with a young talent?

Honestly, we didn’t really treat Will Hugo too differently from the adult actors. Working with any actor, it is all about building trust – letting them know that you trust them and earning their trust. The first day of filming was the scene in the river and successfully getting everyone through a logistically challenging and uncomfortable scene like can really be a bonding experiences for the whole cast and crew. The river was also two and half hours a way, so we got to talk on the way with Will and his mom and build rapport and get to know one another more. Will is very involved in various activities in his own life and has great supportive community around him (and siblings too), so we asked him to imagine how different his life might be if he didn’t have those things, which helped him imagine the feelings of the character more.

Jason with Will on set

We’d often talk him through what his character’s feelings are at each moment. He’s a sharp kid and we threw a lot at him. The rest of the cast was really great at working with him too. He was a little shy at first, but by the end he was cracking jokes with everybody, like, “Excuse me, excuse me – lead actor coming through!”

Q: Can you tell me a bit about casting? I recognize the taxi driver was the same actor who played the ringmaster in your other short, Sad Clown.

Even though Darrin Shaughnessy is incredible in Sad Clown, we still made him audition! He’s great at playing characters that seem a little surly but are still sympathetic. When his character enters the bar to pick up the drunks, his face is worth a thousand words. We’ve all been there. We did a pretty extensive casting actually. We had two days with long casting sessions and then a call-back. We knew the film would live or die by the casting.

We needed actors that played the actors as real people, without too many preconceived judgements. And also actors that we could believe were a family. With the wrong casting or performances it could play like a PSA or a melodrama and we didn’t want that. It was very a delicate.

Megan Kelly Hubbell, Sean Dooley (who played the parents) and Will really stood out as the right people to play the family in the film. They just connected with the material. Megan’s audition was one of the best I’ve ever seen for anything. We actually saw a lot of great local talent and instead of performing a monologue, we asked them to tell a story about drinking or being around drinking. We heard some pretty wild stories! The co-writer of the film also appears in the film as Dan, their annoying drinking buddy.

Q: There is an extensive river tubing scene which I’d imagine must’ve been pretty tough to shoot. Would you share about shooting that scene and the toughest part about that particular shoot?

We filmed at a river on a relative’s property that I go tubing on every summer. Tubing down the river each year always felt like one of the most cinematic things I could imagine and I’d never seen tubing down a river in a film before. It became this perfect metaphor in the center of the film, this family drifting somewhat aimlessly together.

On the day we filmed, it was cold! Maybe 62 degrees, so who knows what the temperature of the water was? And it occasionally drizzled ice cold rain on us. We did a lot of the filming from a canoe that we managed to secure the camera and the tripod in. Luckily we didn’t tip. The director of photography (Max Sjöberg), myself, and the boom operator were in the canoe, simultaneously trying to steer it and capture the scene. There were a couple times where a branch almost knocked the camera in the water. It also was a challenge to get our canoe and camera lined up with the actors as the river moved us around. It was the first day of filming, so I was worried the actors would stop talking to me after I stuck them in a cold river all day. But I think it was a good bonding experience for everybody. Despite being uncomfortable, it was a really fun day. It was also the lead actor’s first time tubing.

Q: Lastly, what would you like the audience to take away from your film?

The film isn’t a PSA.  I don’t want to spell out a message for anyone, but I will say that alcoholism and low income families are rarely show this way in cinema, yet this situation is so common.  A loving family where the disruption of alcohol chips away at them.  The film a vignette, a glimpse into the lives of others, but for many who’ve seen it, it is a reflection of something they are all too familiar with.

That’s a wrap!

Check out the filmmaking journey of This Is Home


Thanks Jason for chatting with me!

MSPIFF37 – Documentary Reviews: ‘Silicone Soul’ + ‘A Work In Progress (Al Milgrom’s Cinema Journey)’

I’m still playing catch-up with MSPFF a month after it’s over. Well that’s life, always a juggling act between my full time 9-5 job, blogging, writing, and just life’s business in general. I still have a few MSPIFF interviews to be transcribed, so stay tuned for those!

Today we’ve got reviews of two more documentaries I enjoyed, both have a strong MN connection, made right here in Minnesota and well worth checking out!


MSPIFF Reviews

Silicone Soul

Directed by: Melody Gilbert

When having a relationship with a real human being is too hard, where do you turn?

That’s the question this inherently thought-provoking documentary poses. The first thing that might come to your mind seeing stills or even hear about silicone dolls is perhaps not a positive one. I have to admit, it conjures up something provocative, sexual and perhaps even the word ‘icky’ comes to mind. But as great documentary filmmakers do, its role is not to label or judge their subject.

The main subjects featured in its poster John and his ‘wife’ Jackie is perhaps the most similar to Lars and the Real Girl (that fictitious film would make a good companion piece to this doc). John is a tender man who’s disappointed by his past relationships and and he treats his synthetic companion with such loving care. He’d take her to nice restaurants, the zoo, etc. on her wheelchair, and he’d shrug off people’s obvious confusion, even disgust, nonchalantly. “It is weird… but it’s good weird. Weird doesn’t mean bad.” So he’s well aware of this unusual relationship but he’s comfortable enough in his own skin that he doesn’t care what others think.

Then there’s Davecat and his wife & mistress, which is obviously a very sexual relationship. I gotta say I cringe as he talked about some of the most um, gross aspects covered in the film. In contrast however, there’s the segments where silicone babies are used to recreate the love between mother and child in senior homes. The look on the older residents, some with dementia, as they hold a ‘baby’ in their hand tugs my heartstrings. The dolls look so lifelike some couldn’t figure out they aren’t real, but the emotion they feel definitely are real.

I think one of the most fascinating segment for me is the part involving a female artist who used to work on Wall Street. I’m glad Melody included a woman as one of the human subjects because it kind of presents something entirely unexpected. The artist/photographer based in NYC uses the dolls for various artistic photoshoots in her studio, stating that the dolls are basically replacements to friendships she wished she had.

Despite the provocative nature, Melody didn’t sensationalize the subject matter, but instead captures the various stories with an astute yet tender lens. There are also some fun and insightful animation by local filmmaker Beth Peloff that really helped illustrates some of the situations the film simply couldn’t capture. The themes of love, secrets, loneliness and social acceptance…are all universal which we can all relate to and struggle with at some point in our lives.

As I left the theater though, I did ponder about the relationship between John and his female neighbor who also lives alone. She totally accepts John’s wife Jackie and she and John seem to have a good rapport together. It did make me wonder why John wouldn’t consider perhaps starting a relationship with his human neighbor instead. But perhaps that is the point of the film, who are we to judge who…or what…people choose to love?

I had the privilege of knowing about this project months months before it premiered at MSPIFF, when I attended a Film Fatales panel where filmmaker Melody Gilbert  was one of the speakers. In fact, I introduced the composer of my short film Hearts Want, Charlie McCarron, to Melody at another film event and he ended up doing the music for the film. Suffice to say, this documentary also boasts great music to go with its intriguing imagery.

Silicone Soul upcoming screening:

Duluth Superior Film Festival (Duluth, MN)
June 2, 2018 – 7pm – Zinema 2

Visit its official website for more screening location/dates and other info.


A Work In Progress (Al Milgrom’s Cinema Journey)

Directed by:  Phil Harder

I had known who Al Milgrom is for a long time, but I’ve only had the pleasure of meeting the man himself last year (at another film festival event) where he asked where I was from. When he found out I’m from Indonesia, he proceeded to tell me he’s befriended some of Indonesia’s most celebrated filmmakers and actors. One thing that’d strike people about Al would be his amazing memory. At 95 he’s still as sharp as ever. He not only remembered who I am at our next meeting weeks later, but he actually remembered where I’m from!

Everyone who’s been in the film business in Minnesota likely has an ‘Al Milgrom story.’ That’s why I took a few hours off from work specifically to see this documentary. Director Phil Harder followed the 95-year-old Milgrom as he gave us a fascinating tour to his personal home in Minneapolis where he kept decades-worth of film archives. I sincerely hope one day his house would become a film museum, and if someone were to do a fundraising to make that happen, I’d readily contribute! A quintessential cinephile whose cinematic heroes include Fellini, Bergman, Truffaut, John Waters, as well as classic silent filmmakers Erich von Stroheim, his deep, singular passion for films is palpable. His first intro to film is Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, which led him to become the ‘Minnesota Godfather of Cinema’ as it were. He’s the founding father of the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul itself back in 1962.

I could’ve easily watched this film again as there are so many I’ve missed. Mr. Milgrom has brought the likes of Jean-Luc Godard, Werner Herzog, and Milos Forman to the Twin Cities. There are footage of a Godard interview here in town, and there’s even sound footage of him interviewing the then still-emerging filmmaker Martin Scorsese (where Mr. Milgrom had to ask how Scorsese spell his name). Sadly, the 1970 protest documentary Scorsese was working on at the time never aired. Mr. Milgrom himself was a photojournalist for the US Army, on top of being a documentarian, world traveler and cinema pioneer in his illustrious career.

But the most fascinating parts of this doc has to be Al’s trip to Russia in 1959, which he’s still working on to this day. Hence the self-described term “The World’s Oldest Emerging Filmmaker” as he’s working on Russian Journey: The Story of a Filmmaker’s Travels Behind the Curtain. He definitely has the gift of capturing intriguing subject matters through visual medium. Those close-ups of various Russian citizens simply living their daily lives are full of intriguing untold stories waiting to be uncovered. Unfortunately, Al revealed in this doc that he’s lost the audio file to complete the project. The good news is, he (with the help of other filmmaker friends) are working on getting that resolved, so hopefully we get to see the finished film soon!

This 70-minute documentary definitely left me wanting more. I could’ve watched another half hour of just watching Mr. Milgrom give commentary about cinema, filmmaking, etc. in his museum-like home, and even commenting on some of the plethora of photos he’s taken in the past. I’m glad the filmmaker wisely chose to confine the film to just within Al’s home, which is a fascinating character in and of itself.

P.S. MSPIFF made the mistake of inserting a short documentary Influenced which is about how some MN business uses social media. It’s only 7 minutes long but its message seemed to be in such a contrast of who Al Milgrom is all about that people were chanting ‘we want Al!’ in protest!

I also got to take part of the Q&A with Al Milgrom, as well as the director Phil Harder and producer Mike Dust. It was well worth staying for!


A Work In Progress (Al Milgrom’s Cinema Journey) upcoming screening:

Duluth Superior Film Festival (Duluth, MN)
Sunday, June 3rd at 3pm – Zinema

Visit DSFF website official website for more details


 

The Flixlist: 10 reasons ‘Deadpool 2’ won us over… again

Post by Vitali Gueron

In February 2016, our own Ruth wrote a review of the movie Deadpool by titling her post “10 reasons Deadpool movie won me over” and she made a top 10 list praising the movie. I went ahead and re-read her post, and then I realized – almost everything she listed in her post applies to the sequel. Deadpool 2 is all that but there are even more laughs and there is even more thought behind its writing.

Here’s my take of Ruth’s top 10 list…

Here are 10 reasons why the Deadpool 2 won me over:

1. The self-deprecating humor

Yes, there is plenty of that in Deadpool 2. Ryan Reynolds, as Deadpool, continues to relentlessly poke fun at himself, the actor playing him, and even the studio that made it. But many things have happened since 2016. Deadpool was very successful for the studio – it shattered the box office record with $150 million domestic gross and $264 million worldwide (not as impressive for 2018 with Avengers: Infinity War topping $500 million in just 15 days domestically). Then 20th Century Fox came out with the another very successful movie Logan in 2017, where the X-Men character Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) dies and was said to be Jackman’s final portrayal of the character on-screen.

The ‘original’ Deadpool w/ Wolverine in X-Men Origins (2009)

That fact is not lost of Reynolds, who co-wrote the script of this movie alongside the first Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. There are many references to the X-Men franchise, the character of Wolverine and living in the Xavier Mansion. Be on the lookout for a hilarious Logan-inspired “musical ballerina” in the first part of the movie.

2. The retro throwback to 80s pop culture

While the first Deadpool relied heavily on 80s pop culture music, including George Michael’s Careless Whisper and You’re the Inspiration by Chicago, the sequel instead brought out heavy-hitter Celine Dion with her new power ballad Ashes, played during the movie’s opening credits.

Just as in the first Deadpool, where Juice Newton’s Angel of the Morning is featured during the hilariously memorable title credits, Celine Dion’s Ashes is featured as Deadpool 2 opens. In the opening scene, Deadpool decides to kill himself by blowing up his apartment while lying atop of several barrels of explosives. Cue Celine Dion!

3. That it IS a love story

Yes, Morena Baccarin returns as Vanessa Carlysle, Deadpool’s fiancée. Unfortunately, she is not featured as much in this movie as she was in the first Deadpool, but when we do see her – she makes it count!

There are other relationships explored in Deadpool 2; Brianna Hildebrand returns to play Negasonic Teenage Warhead and this time she has a girlfriend Yukio, a female ninja of Japanese origin and a member of the X-Men. Deadpool really likes and respects Yukio and clearly lets us know about it. This leads us to number four…

4. There are some bad ass women in this movie

Having already mentioned Morena Baccarin and Brianna Hildebrand, I want to focus on the other bad ass women in this movie – namely Zazie Beetz as Domino, a mercenary with the mutant ability to manipulate luck, who joins Deadpool’s X-Force team. Beetz is a fantastic addition to the movie and could easily start her own franchise if she wanted to – she is that good.

The other is Leslie Uggams, who returns from the first film as Deadpool’s elderly roommate Blind Al. Uggams is hilarious as Blind Al and continue to play the smart-ass, feisty roommate who isn’t afraid to point a gun – even if it does point in the wrong direction.

5.  I actually care about Wade Wilson

Yes, in the first movie we realized why Deadpool is a character worth caring about. But in Deadpool 2, there is another character that is worth caring about – the same character Deadpool teases during the first movie’s post-credit scene, about him being in the sequel – his name is Cable.

The Cable character (Josh Brolin) is a time traveling cybernetic mutant soldier, who returns to this exact date and time from the future to kill Russell (played by Julian Dennison), a young mutant who Deadpool tries to save. This mutant, Firefist, is portrayed as a teenager who possesses fire controlling ability. And he is the key to the storyline in this movie between Cable, Deadpool and Vanessa Carlysle.

6. The awesome opening credit

Having already talked a bit about the opening credit scene, I won’t spot it for you any further. Instead, I will focus on the post-credit scene. While I won’t tell you what it is about, let me just say that yes, it does live up to the hype – and it actually occurs during mid-credits! As previously mentioned in the self-deprecating humor section, Ryan Reynolds isn’t afraid to go after himself or any other X-Men characters.

7. Hilarious supporting characters

Having already mentioned some, there are other new and returning supporting characters that make Deadpool 2 worthwhile. First are returning characters Dopinder, the Indian cab driver (played by Karan Soni) and Weasel, Deadpool’s best friend (played by T.J. Miller).

Both help Deadpool as he recruits for his X-Force team. The other parts of that team are the aforementioned Domino, Zeitgeist (played by Bill Skarsgård), a mutant who can spew acidic vomit from his mouth, and Bedlam (played by Terry Crews), a mutant can generate a bio-EM field that wreaks havoc with electrical and certain mechanical systems. Also returning is Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapičić), an experienced member of the X-Men with the mutant ability to transform his entire body into organic steel. All supporting characters add a new dimension to Deadpool and make him realize he is part of a team, whether it’s called X-Force of not.

8. Biting wit delivered with fun action sequences

Certainly the protagonist of the first movie – the one who is constantly wise-cracking as he shoots and makes human kabobs out of people – is back. Although director Tim Miller, who helmed the first film didn’t return, director David Leitch (John Wick with Chad Stahelski, Atomic Blonde) does use his experience as a stunt coordinator to deliver some stylish action sequences, as did Tim Miller in the first movie. Also with Reynolds as one of three credited writers, he takes more creative control with the sequel. And he makes good points about the mindless punching and grating of dubstep music cues.

9. Ryan Reynolds is perfect in the role

Ah yes, as much as it was true in the first movie, it’s even more obvious in this movie. While in the first movie we saw what Ryan Reynolds does best — showcase his comedy, Deadpool 2’s greatest strength is its restraint. As co-writer, Reynolds has less of an impulse to go for the obvious joke all the time. That being said, this sequel is funnier and filthier than the first film, and it capitalizes on its plot and supporting characters that make Reynolds shine.

10. The fact that it turns the conventional superhero formula on its head

If you can make the case that the first Deadpool was a raunchy superhero movie, Deadpool 2 is its more refined, more R-rated older brother. The film makes it a point for not taking itself or its humor too seriously, which can be harder than it looks. As Ruth said in her original review:

I think the fact that the movie IS relentlessly hilarious means the humor hits the mark. The “breaking the fourth wall” style also works well for the movie, which apparently is loyal to the comics.

Deadpool 2 continues that tradition of “breaking the fourth wall” and does it even better than the first one. Fans of the first Deadpool will not be disappointed with the sequel and by the looks of it, we have at least several more Deadpool movies to look forward to.

4Reels

A quick note from Ruth:

Having seen this last Saturday night, I definitely agree the sequel is even funnier than the original! I thought the humor would be derivative and his constant fourth-wall breaking and self-deprecating humor would annoy me but I’m glad I was genuinely tickled the entire time. The opening credits was just as hilarious as the first one, too! I like the kinetic action sequences by David Leitch (who gave us the super fun John Wick!) and so fun seeing Julian Dennison who was terrific in Hunt for the Wilderpeople (which I recently rewatched). I wonder if Reynolds even consulted w/ Taika Waititi as Julian’s character referenced some of the humor from that movie.

I also really LOVE Zazie Beetz‘s Domino! The German-African actress lives up to her über-cool name as Domino is so fun to watch and spin-off worthy! I gotta mention another new character that made me laugh: Peter (Rob Delaney) whose lack of superpower is more than made up by sheer enthusiasm! And you know what, despite all the meta zany-ness, the plot actually holds up, imagine that!

Of course, if you’re not a fan of the Merc with a mouth and his raunchy brand of humor to begin with, I’m not sure this one will change your mind.


So, what do you think of Deadpool 2?

……

RIP Margot Kidder – she shall always be my favorite Lois Lane

I just flew home from vacation today and as I was browsing the internet briefly as I boarded the plane, I read that Margot Kidder has passed away at the age of 69. I knew she had some health problems and that she had stepped away from acting and focused more on political activism in her later years. It seems that just like the most famous role she portrayed, Margot Kidder also courageously fought for what she believed in.

I was saddened by this news particularly because how her portrayal of Lois Lane in Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie (my all time favorite Superman movie) and basically made the role as iconic as Christopher Reeve did as the Man of Steel. I mentioned in this 2011 post when Amy Adams was cast that Kidder was my favorite Lois Lane. Well, I think she always will be and I tell you why.

From the first moment we saw Lois in the 1978 Superman movie, we saw her in her element. She’s hard at work at Daily Planet, doing what she loves and does best, surrounded by people who relies on her and trusts her. We saw how her photographer colleague Jimmy Olsen adores her (probably has a secret crush on her) and how her boss Mr. White values her work. She’s the best reporter of the paper, and perhaps even the entire Metropolis.

This quote is from Superman II which best defines Lois according to her boss:

Perry White: If Paris is going to go kablooey I want my best reporter right in the middle of it… No offense, Kent. You’re good, but Lois Lane’s better.
Clark Kent: No, I mean uh, isn’t that a bit dangerous, sir?
Perry White: That goes with the territory, Kent. Don’t worry; if I know Lois Lane, she’ll not only come back with a Pulitzer Prize story, but a one-on-one interview with the hydrogen bomb titled “What Makes Me Tick.”

So when she meets Clark Kent for the first time at Mr. White’s office and he spills his new boss’ drink all over himself, she was focused on her work. Her career is the most important thing for her, not because she cares about being at the top, but because she is absolutely passionate for the art of journalism. In other words, she’s already a super woman before she meets Superman, and she doesn’t need a man (no matter how super) to define who she is.

Now THAT is what inspires me the most about Kidder’s Lois Lane. In fact, I was so inspired by her that for as long as I could remember I had always wanted to be a journalist. Never mind that I was barely in grade school when I saw Superman: The Movie, that film made such an impression on me I thought her Lois was (and still is) the coolest gal ev-er!

When I went to college years later, I even put down in journalism as my major on my I-20 (for those not familiar w/ being an international student in the US, that form is a Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students). I ended up switching to Advertising with Graphic Design minor, but for one quarter, I did take journalism and broadcasting courses and I’m so glad I did! As I became a film blogger over a decade ago, the journalistic principles I learned in school proves to be quite beneficial.

So yeah, I did have a massive crush on Christopher Reeve’s Superman for years (he remains the only actor I’ve ever written letters to), but I was just as influenced by Kidder’s portrayal of Lois. I think to this day, no other actress can top Kidder’s portrayal of Lois, just as no actor can top Reeve’s Superman for me.

I mentioned in that 2011 article that I love the contrast of Kidder’s acting with Clark Kent vs. Superman. How she’s domineering and bossy to Clark, but then goes all googley-eyed in front of Superman. But what I didn’t mention is, that  Superman and his alter ego was just as mesmerized by Lois. I believe he’s drawn to her not only for her looks (though she’s indeed gorgeous), but because of her spunk, her no-nonsense attitude and simply her zest for life. Yes, Supes has saved Lois a few times, but no, she’s not some damsel in distress. She may be a bit ruthless when she pursues a story, but that’s because she always gives a hundred and ten percent to her work and is driven by the passion for uncovering truth just as Supes does.

All of those elements makes Lois Lane a heroine to me… who needs superpowers when you’ve got cojones like that?

No wonder Margot Kidder wasn’t enthused with the way DCEU portrayed Lois. As she mentioned in this article, despite casting a strong performer like Amy Adams, Lois was mostly relegated as ‘the girlfriend’ which seems like a step back in time.

Kidder’s Lois Lane was not ahead of its time, it’s timing was just right and therefore it’s timeless. She is strong as well as vulnerable, which makes her relatable. She is feminine (in her own sassy way), as well as a fierce feminist who’s comfortable in her own skin and knows her worth, no wonder Supes’ willing to give up his superpower just to be with her.

I feel like I’ve been rambling on when now all I want to do is rewatch Superman: The Movie. In sum, I just want to say THANK YOU Margot Kidder, for your inspiration and for defining a role of a strong woman for a generation and beyond.

May you rest in peace.


Have you been inspired by Margot Kidder as Lois Lane or otherwise? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

///