DIRECTOR: Travis Stevens
STARRING: Christine Woods and Graham Sibley
What if the apocalypse came… and you were happy about it?
Better Off Zed focuses on a married couple, Paige (Christine Woods) and Guy (Graham Sibley), who have barricaded themselves in their suburban California home to survive the zombie apocalypse. While Paige eagerly listens to the radio for evacuation information and tries to flag down rescue helicopters, Guy is less concerned with escaping and sees their predicament as an opportunity for an easier life with no responsibilities.
This movie is such a refreshing take on the zombie genre. It’s interesting seeing the focus on what life during a zombie apocalypse could mean past just not being eaten and the surprising perks of it (zombie apocalypse=no more student loan payments!) while establishing a great message about how playing it safe can end up being dangerous. The bright, cheerful set design contrasting with the dark subject matter reflects that message so well; Paige and Guy live in a sunny yellow house surrounded by lush greenery and colorful flowers, but just outside their fence is a slowly growing crowd of the flesh-hungry undead.
The acting in this movie is also fantastic. It could be hard to keep a movie interesting and engaging with only two actors with speaking roles, but Better Off Zed delivers. Christine Woods and Graham Sibley have excellent chemistry, from their touching romantic moments to their growing tension and marital conflict. Graham does a wonderful job playing Guy as both infuriating and sympathetic, but Christine stands out as Paige with some strong comedic skills; she has this great moment where she cries over a pair of boots that she’ll never get to buy and her performance is both hilarious and heartbreaking.
My only complaint about this movie has to do with the pacing, as it does feel a bit slow after a while. There’s a lot of focus on the monotony of being stuck in the house forever, which I understand is important since so much of the focus is on feeling trapped and limited, but it’s established well enough that the movie doesn’t need to be as long as it is; it goes past building tension to being kind of boring. That said, the last fifteen minutes ago is an emotional rollercoaster, so that somewhat makes up for it.
Overall, Better Off Zed is absolutely worth checking out. While it will definitely appeal to zombie/horror fans, it’s not overly bloody or gory, so non-horror fans will be able to enjoy it too, thanks to the excellent writing and acting.
Better Off Zed is available now on iTunes, Amazon, Googleplay, and DirecTv. Also available at retailers such as Target, Walmart and Best Buy. …
Fahrenheit 11/9 might be Michael Moore’s best movie since he made and released Fahrenheit 9/11 back in 2004. What Fahrenheit 9/11 did for millions of frustrated liberals living a Bush-era world where their democracy is threatened by a failed and dangerous presidency, this film plays on similar fears and frustrations of liberals living in the scarier and even more dangerous presidency of Donald J. Trump.
Michael Moore starts of by recounting the 2016 election, the nomination of Hillary Clinton who became the first woman to accept a major U.S. political party’s nomination for President of the United States, and the rise of reality television star and read estate tycoon Donald Trump. Moore was never a fan of Clinton, and made no attempt to hide his contempt for her in this movie.
Moore showed Clinton’s rise through the Democratic Party’s nomination process, the challenge for the nomination made by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and the seemingly undemocratic use of “superdelegates” by the Democratic National Committee help Clinton ascend to the nomination. He made sure to mention the case of West Virginia’s 2016 Democratic Primary, where Clinton lost every county in the state to Bernie Sanders.
A political analysis done by NBC News showed that Sanders victory was partially a rejection of the Obama administration’s own coal policies, but he was also helped by large numbers of Republican cross-over voters. Their own polling showed that thirty-nine percent of Sanders voters stated that they actually planned to vote for Donald Trump over Sanders in the November general election. Yet, Moore decided to leave out these facts, but rather conclude that while Clinton lost West Virginia’s pledged delegates 11-18 in favor of Sanders, all eight un-pledged delegates voted for Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, meaning the West Virginia delegation voted for Clinton over Sanders by one. There was an outright rejection of Bernie Sanders by the Democratic National Committee and not by the pledged delegates, according to Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 11/9 which can be seen as Moore’s attempt to advocate for his own preferred candidate — Bernie Sanders.
Once Clinton won the Democratic Party’s nomination and Donald Trump was able to knock of all of his Republican challengers to win the Republican Party’s nominator, Moore argues that Clinton made use of tiny bumper stickers and card board cutout of her to send across the country while Trump used the national media to televise all of his rallies, having them wait for him sometimes for hours upon end, with wall-to-wall coverage of the candidate, who bullied them for not showing his large crowd sizes or dismissing him as not a serious candidate. The local Minnesota connection in the movie comes when Moore shows an interview of Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison in 2015 saying on ABC’s “This Week” that Donald Trump could be leading the Republican ticket in 2016, to which the other guests laugh him off and host George Stephanopoulos saying “I know you don’t believe that.” Well, Keith Ellison was correct in his prediction and even Michael Moore himself predicted on Bill Maher’s show, four months before the 2016 election that Donald Trump would win in 2016.
Moore criticizes Trump for talking about extending his presidency beyond the eight-year limit. Moore argues that Trump loves the dictators such as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and says of China’s President Xi Jinping that “He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great.” Fascism, Moore and Maher agree, “happens in little increments.”
While Fahrenheit 11/9 is a very somber and thoughtful movie, it lacks some important factual context. For example, Moore does little to mention that Russian meddling in our elections and their hacking of the DNC and Clinton campaigns in 2016. He doesn’t bring up the Russian’s government’s use of Facebook and other social media to spread fake news stories to make Hillary Clinton look bad and Donald Trump look good. He also doesn’t talk about the ramifications of disgruntled Bernie Sanders voters not voting in 2016 or Green Party nominee Jill Stein’s attempts to corral these voters for her own benefit. To Moore, these two figures had little or no impact on Clinton’s loss and Moore squarely places the blame for Trump’s win on a “rigged system.” Most surprisingly, Moore talks about Trumps’ win in the Electoral College but doesn’t provide the raw, startling numbers: 65,853,514 million people voted for Hillary Clinton while only 62,984,828 voted for Donald Trump. This is a net difference of over 2.8 million people who voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.
The most touching moment in the documentary comes when Parkland, Florida High School student Emma Gonzalez reads off the names of the students who perished in the mass shooting at her school during the March For Our Lives rally. Emma says that no-one could comprehend the aftermath of the shooting or how far it’s devastating effects would reach. For those who still can’t comprehend the gravity of the effects because they refuse to, Emma tells them that their six minutes and 20 seconds with an AR-15 went straight into the ground six feet deep. After she reads off the names of her lost classmates and what they would never do again, she pauses and stares straight into the camera, as if she were looking inside your soul for any humanity you had left.
Have you seen Fahrenheit 11/9? Well, what did you think?
TCFF announces a diverse and inspiring lineup of films for their 2018 festival, to be held October 17-27 at Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON Theatres at The Shops at West End with ICON•X. Coming off of a successful September Gala that honored Steve Zahn with the Lifetime Achievement Award and Rachel Mairose from Secondhand Hounds with the Changemaker Award, this year’s festival will officially open their ninth year with Peter Farrelly’s Green Book (November 21, Participant Media and DreamWorks Pictures).
When Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), a bouncer from an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx, is hired to drive Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a world-class Black pianist, on a concert tour from Manhattan to the Deep South, they must rely on “The Green Book” to guide them to the few establishments that were then safe for African-Americans. Confronted with racism, danger—as well as unexpected humanity and humor—they are forced to set aside differences to survive and thrive on the journey of a lifetime.
Green Book recently won the Toronto International Film Festival’s coveted People’s Choice Award this past week! Producer Jim Burke, Academy Award nominee for “The Descendants,” will be attending.
Opening night festivities will also include a screening of Time for Ilhan, a documentary about State Representative and Federal House candidate, Ilhan Omar, who will be in attendance along with director Norah Shapiro and cinematographer Chris Newberry.
The Centerpiece Highlight on Friday, October 19 is the Newport Beach Film Festival hit comedy When Jeff Tried to Save the World starring Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite). Heder and director Kendall Goldberg will be in attendance. United Skates, a documentary about roller skating and a community’s battle to save an underground subculture will close out the festival on October 27, with producer and Minnesota native Tiffany Fisher-Love in attendance.
Other visiting guests this year include David Arquette and Tom Arnold with the U.S. premiere of Saving Flora, the story of a 14-year-old girl who kidnaps an elephant from a circus to take it to a nature reserve, screening on October 22. Chef Andrew Zimmern will also be in attendance on Thursday, October 25 for the Midwest premiere of Chef Flynn, a documentary about a ten-year-old who transformed his living room into a supper club and achieved sudden fame.
TCFF is also thrilled to feature Widows (20th Century Fox) a modern-day thriller from Steve McQueen starring Viola Davis and Liam Neeson, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Fox Searchlight Pictures) starring Melissa McCarthy, Boy Erased (Focus Features) starring Joel Edgerton and Nicole Kidman and The Favourite (Fox Searchlight Pictures) starring Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz.
In addition to their regular programming this year, TCFF is pleased to collaborate with the Jewish Film Festival and the Northstar Science Film Festival, showing a slate of thought provoking films while launching a brand new initiative, TCFF Tech. TCFF Tech is a one-of-a-kind 3-day event spotlighting the impact of technology on social issues, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
I’ll post the complete schedule later with some of my most-anticipated selections!
Tickets are on-sale this weekend for TCFF Members and will be open to the public next week beginning Friday, September 28th, 2018. Ticket prices are $12 for General Admission & $20 for Gala Tickets.
Festival Passes can also be purchased as follows: Silver Pass – $50 (5 pack of non-Gala tickets); Gold Pass – $80 (10 pack of non-Gala tickets); Platinum Pass – $120 (12 pack of non-Gala tickets + 2 Gala tickets); Gala Pass – $100 (6 tickets to any Gala Film); and the All Access Pass – $500 (Guaranteed seat in premiere row at ANY screening +more!).
To learn more about TCFF, events, film submissions or to donate, visit the newly-redesigned twincitiesfilmfest.org
Oh and as if great films aren’t enough for the 11-day festivities, check out the amazing lineup of FREE EDUCATIONAL events!!
Director: Pierre Morel Writer: Chad St. John Running Time: 1h 42min
Review by: Vitali Gueron
Jennifer Garner makes her return to the action genre with the movie Peppermint, directed by Taken director Pierre Morel. After many years of male stars exacting revenge on criminals (think Liam Neeson in the Taken franchise), it now became Garner’s turn to just that, but unfortunately the whole setup by now has become tired and overused. Despite a well-acted and very committed performance by the lead actress, Peppermint unfortunately is a very forgettable and rather bland action movie that leaves almost no impressions with the audience.
Garner plays wife and mother Riley North, who we find out early on is a very committed mother and isn’t afraid to take on other parents who try to come between her and her daughter. When Riley and her husband Chris (Jeff Hephner) turn to plan B after their daughter’s birthday party doesn’t go as planned, they decide to cheer up their daughter Carly’s (Cailey Fleming) spirits with a spontaneous trip to a Christmas Fair for some fun and ice cream.
When asked what ice cream flavor young Carly wanted, she asked for – you guessed it – Peppermint. Before leaving the fair, husband Chris called up his friend Mickey (Chris Johnson) to inform him that he was pulling out of a proposed robbery job that would see him make a lot of money but potentially risking his family’s well-being. Unfortunately, the drug kingpin they wanted to steal from, Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba) learns about their plans and decides to move first.
Already having taken care of Mickey, Diego sends his gang thugs to follow the family at the fair, and shockingly gun down both Chris and Carly in front of Riley. Due to massive corruption in the criminal justice system, Chris and Carly’s killers are allowed to walk free, while the judge forces Riley to be institutionalized in a psychological care ward. Riley escapes and for the next five years she falls off the grid, only to return when she’s ready to bring the murderers to justice on her terms.
This is where the movie goes off the deep end, with Riley taking out everyone from Chris and Carly’s killers (leaving them hanging with their feet tied up off a Farris wheel) to the judge who freed their killers and tried to institutionalize her (by blowing up his house with him inside). Meanwhile LAPD detectives Stan Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr.) and Moises Beltran (Ray Ortiz) are on Riley’s trail and unsurprisingly to the viewers, one of the detectives is good while the other is bad and is working with drug kingpin Diego Garcia and his gang members. Neither one of the supporting actors are memorable or given any substantial material to work with. The rest of the villains are faceless cartel and gang members who are trying to track down Riley before she causes any more problems for their operation and neutralize drug kingpin Diego Garcia.
While Peppermint does have some strong action sequences, there isn’t one single sequence that stands above the rest as the sequence everyone will be talking about after the end. If you’re a die-hard Jennifer Garner fan, you may enjoy this movie more than I did, but I will only remember this movie as a failed attempt to bring back the revenge thriller genre with the hopes that miss Garner can do what many before her could not. It won’t be long before this revenge thriller is also forgotten.
Have you seen ‘PEPPERMINT’? Well, what did you think?
Not everyday I got the opportunity one of my favorite actors… so imagine my excitement that I got a one-on-one interview with Steve Zahn! I’ve mentioned a bit about Mr. Zahn in my TCFF gala recap last week. A Minnesota native who’ve carved out a fantastic career in Hollywood, Steve is as humble and funny as you’d imagine, no movie star pretense whatsoever and he still looks incredibly young for being 50 years old (in fact he certainly could pass for 35!). Before the interview started, he remarked to me and a rep from Showplace ICON Theatres that it’s ‘f***ing’ bizarre’ to be doing the red carpet, press, etc. as he usually does the glitz and glamor stuff in L.A. and he comes home to Minnesota to be away from all that. He actually stays with his parents while he’s in town, in the same house he grew up in in New Hope (Minneapolis suburbs) instead of at a swanky hotel.
Once we sat down, I asked him when was the last time he was in MN and he replied ‘A month ago for my 80th birthday.’ Apparently he’s also home every Christmas, splitting his time between his family ranch in Kentucky where he lives with his wife and two teenage kids. I congratulated him on the Lifetime Achievement Award he’s about to receive from TCFF. It’s hard to believe he’s got over 70 projects under his belt listed on IMDb, spanning over two decades since he got his big break in Reality Bites in 1994. One of Hollywood’s best and most versatile actor, he’s a self-described character actor who can easily transition into leading roles. He’s one of those talents who’s great in everything he does. He always stands out and you’d remember him matter how small the role is.
Below is a photo of Steve receiving the award from TCFF’s executive director Jatin Setia last Thursday, Sept.6:
When I mentioned the Lifetime Achievement Award, Steve had this to say… ”As an actor you do one gig and it’s over and you do another. It doesn’t connect, it’s not like it’s a continuous thing. I just got a text from my cousin. She drives snow plows in West Central Minnesota, she’s worked for the state for 30 years and she got a watch. I mean it doesn’t happen in my business. So it’s weird to look back at things you did that you think they don’t connect but they do connect in a weird way.”
You got started doing theatre work here in Minnesota and New York City. Do you miss doing theatre work?
Oh yeah, absolutely. For me, it’s weird because of where I live, the commitment to theatre would take me away from my family too long. Film commitments are shorter. I can work for three months, and you can come home during that time and then I’m done. As opposed to theatre commitments which is like 8 shows a week and one day off. For me it’s more logistics and family [that prevents him from doing more theatre work].
You have been doing a lot of TV work recently (he’s currently filming Valley of the Boom, a docudrama that’ll air on National Geographic focusing on the 1990s tech boom and bust in Silicon Valley). Are you enjoying that?
Well yes, both TV and film. It’s the trend of the business, the TV medium has expanded beyond belief. Writers have gone from film to tv to tell these intricate, character-driven stories. It used to be the opposite when films are the ones doing that, so it’s interesting to see the change. There was a time when talents sort of get labeled as a ‘TV actor’ so if you want to be a film actor you don’t do TV. It’s totally different now, that stigma is gone completely. For me, I just want to do good stuff, tell good stories with compelling characters. That’s what I look for, I don’t care what the medium is, whether it’s for the small screen or big screen, no matter what the budget is.
You’ve done SO many projects but we don’t have time to go over all of those. I have my favorites you’ve done such as You’ve Got Mail, That Thing You Do!, Shattered Glass… but one I’m curious about is Rescue Dawn. It must be super challenging. How was it working with Werner Herzog?
Oh amazing. He’s an unusual guy but that whole project one of the highlights of my career. Having to physically change and to dive into a character that rigorously. To work with someone that eclectic, y’know, he’s really an interesting guy. Really simple, he was phenomenal. Every day was completely different. The fact that there was no trailers for actors, he doesn’t really like comfort… he loves chaos, he thrives off it, that’s when he’s most creative, not when things are comfortable.
I heard you lost 40 pounds for the role? And this wasn’t a big studio project right, so you must have to have done it on your own?
Oh yeah, Christian [Bale] and I did it for Werner, and because the story was amazing.
Another film I want to ask you about is War For the Planet of the Apes because I love motion-capture (mo-cap). How did you get involved in that project?
I was doing a TV show down in Puerto Rico and [director] Matt Reeves was interested in me playing the part so we have a conversation via Skype for over an hour about Westerns and stuff and he asked me if I would be willing to read for it. So he gave me three days, and I read for him over Skype and he loved it and wanted me to do it. I just said I needed a week at home in between jobs and then I was off in Vancouver running around for a couple of weeks playing an ape. That’s the closest thing that I’ve done to theatre on film, despite the huge budget [$150mil]. It was phenomenal. It was so physical and so difficult and challenging. Mo-cap captures your performance. It doesn’t make you an ape, it makes you look like an ape. So if you don’t move like one, you’re not going to look like one.
Down to the tiniest movement, you’d have to analyze how an ape behaves. We [humans] have a lot of pretense, we hold ourselves a certain way. But apes don’t do that. When we look at something, we do it in such a way, but apes do it totally differently. So you have to embody that, then forget about it so you have to be able to play a character with emotions.
Did you work with the ‘King of Mo-Cap’ Andy Serkis who played Caesar in the ‘Apes’ franchise?
Oh yeah he’s amazing. I really think Andy should’ve been nominated for an Oscar. I mean I voted for him when it was award season, it’s really difficult work. It’s harder than playing a regular cop, ‘cause now you have to play a cop that’s an ape, for example. If it weren’t for my theatre background, I really don’t think I would’ve been able to do that job.
In your illustrious career, you’ve worked with SO many people. Which of your co-stars you’d love to work with again?
Oh man, there’s so many. Ethan Hawke is a good friend of mine, all he has to do is call. Richard Linklater. Sam Rockwell, oh too many to mention.
Speaking of Ethan Hawke who’s gone into directing more and more. Is that something you would like to tackle in the future?
I don’t know. I’m not as bold… he’s an amazing artist. I mean, if there’s something I’m really passionate about, yeah maybe.
Last question. You mentioned that you lived in Kentucky, which is far from Hollywood. Is that a deliberate choice that you want to have a work and life balance?
No. It’s just another passion in life [to live as a rancher]. Even when I was doing theatre in New York I was living in a cabin in Pennsylvania. I always enjoy living outside, outdoors, I just enjoy that. I hunt, fish, farm, that’s who I am. Yet indirectly, as I get older, I think it’s nice to be able to go from one extreme to the other, that is the contrast of working in Hollywood and living in a ranch. I think it helps me as an artist. It may not be the best for someone else but for me it’s perfect. It keeps me ‘naïve’ and every time I go to every job it feels fresh, like the first time. I’m always on location in a way, I never work at home.
Soon after our interview, Steve was whisked away to the Rooftop Bar at AC Marriott Hotel. But thanks to TCFF Managing Director Bill Cooper who took the time to snap this photo of us before he left.
Thank you Steve Zahn for taking the time to chat with me… and Jatin Setia & Bill Cooper for the opportunity!
While I’m a fan of horror in general, I prefer the supernatural/paranormal sub-genre, and The Conjuring film series is easily one of my favorites out of the more recent paranormal horror movies. I always try to go into screenings with an open mind, but I couldn’t help having high expectations with The Nun.
The Nun follows Father Burke (Demian Bichir), a priest who specializes in paranormal investigation, and Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a novitiate about to take her final vows, to an isolated convent in Romania to look into the death of a nun. Joined by Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), the French-Canadian expatriate who discovered the corpse, the investigators discover an ancient and dangerous force of evil that manifests itself in the form of a demonic nun.
While The Nun is certainly a lot of fun, it’s hardly the best out of The Conjuring series. The biggest problem with it is its heavy reliance on CGI. While all the films in the series use CGI to an extent, they mostly achieve their scares through strategically shadowy shots and tense pacing. While they still utilize that method here, they place more focus on special effects to the point where it packs less of a punch. The demonic nun’s CGI face is especially silly.
The Nun also makes the mistake of beginning and ending with scenes from the first Conjuring movie, which just feels clumsy. Despite the films being connected, the scenes don’t blend well with the overall movie, and it’s confusing for people who haven’t seen the first film; the friend I attended the screening with had never seen the other movies and had to ask me what the scenes were about afterward. People who have seen the first movie would have still been able to appreciate the connection between the movies without having the scenes included, so there really is no good reason for having them there.
All that said, The Nun is still an enjoyable horror movie. A crumbling convent in the middle of a Romanian forest is the perfect setting for a story like this, providing a rich, dark atmosphere. Despite the cheesy CGI, there are still plenty of well-done and unpredictable jump scares. Lastly, the cast is excellent. Taissa Farmiga (sister of The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 lead Vera Farmiga) is no horror novice herself, and she shines in the role of Sister Irene, giving a likable and compelling performance. Jonas Bloquet is entertaining as Frenchie, providing enough levity without being just comedic relief, managing to portray a genuine, sympathetic character. Demian Bichir is fine as Father Burke; he’s not bad, but he’s not exactly memorable either, besides an unintentionally hilarious entrance in a flashback scene that cracked up my friend and me.
While The Nun isn’t necessarily going to be a horror classic, it’s still a decent addition to The Conjuring series, and seeing it is a nice way of kicking off the Halloween season.
Have you seen ‘THE NUN’? Well, what did you think?
Whew!! What a night!! Thank God it’s Friday ’cause I’m still reeling from the festivities of last night’s event. I’ve mentioned in this post that Steve Zahn was TCFF’s honored guest and the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. With 70+ TV/Film works under his belt in his illustrious career, he certainly deserves it!!
I was lucky enough to get a 15-minute interview with Steve just before the Meet & Greet with him at AC Marriot Rooftop Bar Thursday night. Thanks to Jatin Setia (Executive Director) and Bill Cooper (Managing Director) for this amazing opportunity!
I’ll post the interview once I finished transcribing it next week, but let me just say it was truly fun AND inspiring to have a one-on-one chat with the super talented MN-native who remains down-to-earth and kind despite his Hollywood success. We chatted about his theatre background, training at Harvard’s prestigious American Repertory Theater program, before being discovered by Ben Stiler on a NYC play (Sophistry) he did with Ethan Hawke. The play landed both him and Hawke roles in Reality Bites in 1994.
We then talked about some of the highlights of his film career, including working with Christian Bale and Werner Herzog in Rescue Dawn and doing mo-cap acting with Andy Serkis in War for the Planet of the Apes. Bad Ape is one of the highlights of that movie for me, and so it was so much fun to see his eyes light up talking about the experience. I too agree with Steve that Serkis deserved an Oscar for his mo-cap acting work!
Check out this video showing clips from dozens of Steve’s movies and tv work:
This year’s Preview Gala was even more festive as the year before, and I LOVE that they converted the ‘stage’ area into an elegant talk-show setting where the JASON Show host Jason Matheson interviewed Steve prior to the award presentation. Steve was his usual charming and funny self, being ever-so-humble and gracious about his career and even thanking his family and friends/mentors who have helped him along the way.
It was truly a fantastic event which made me all the more blessed and grateful to have been a part of TCFF since year one nine years ago!! This relatively young organization has brought SO much to the Twin Cities community, not just the film community but other non-profit organizations promoting and benefiting SO many social causes. Last night there were even puppies from Secondhand HoundsAnimal Rescue Organization along with TCFF annual Silent Auction!
Jatin Setia’s FB post from this AM encapsulated everything about last night’s event…
Here are some pics of the festivities… wish I had been able to play with the puppies but I was busy registering guests at the check-in table. I had a blast volunteering with my friends last night, some of whom I’d be hanging out a ton during TCFF in October, yay!