Guest Review: LITTLE (2019)

Directed By: Tina Gordon
Written By: Tina Gordon and Tracy Oliver
Runtime: 1 hour 49 minutes

Jordan Sanders (Regina Hall) is the quintessential boss bitch. She is rich, powerful, and micromanages every detail of her life – all the way down to how many centimeters away from her bed her slippers are placed every night. She rules her company with the same iron fist, decimating carbs and fun whenever they try to wriggle their way into the office. A little girl, apparently unimpressed by boss bitchiness as a life philosophy, magics Sanders back into her teenage self (teenage Sanders is played by the iridescent Marsai Martin). Sanders is trapped in her teenage body until she can learn the important lesson that will restore her back to the life that she built for herself.

Like most comedies these days, Little suffers due to the perfection of its own trailer, but it is still a solid movie. Some of the best jokes lose their punch because timing was tighter in the trailer (which is a flaw that extends past general comedic timing – several scenes drag in pacing) and there are some very cute scenes that just do not belong in the movie. In one such scene, Issa Rae (who plays Jordan Sanders’ assistant April Williams) and Marsai Martin slay a duet in a fancy restaurant. It is incredibly fun to watch, but makes no contextual sense, so it completely took me out of the movie.

Overall Tracy Oliver and Tina Gordon Chism created a beautiful thing in Little. The writing is light, funny, and still packs an emotional punch every now and then. The women characters are powerful, creative, and both excel in a tech field. The romantic interests of both Jordan and April are sexy, supportive, self-sufficient, and eager to prove their worth to the women in their lives. These are characters that are clearly built to give something for girls to aspire to, rather than the usual two-dimensional characters that often populate children’s movies or rom-coms.

One of my favorite things about Little is the visual storytelling. April wears fun, bright clothing, and Jordan is completely chic as a grown up and a fashion explosion as a child. The contrast between April and Jordan is non-verbally expressed time and time again through clothing, make-up, and even their homes. We learn almost everything that we need to know about each character when we initially see April in her small, colorful studio apartment while she’s talking on the phone to Jordan, dressed in silks pajamas and roaming the halls of her swanky condo.

However fun it may be, Little ultimately tries to do too much. Jordan is supposed to learn how to tone down her aggression, April is trying to grow a backbone, and Jordan’s new pre-tween friends are also supposed to learn an important life lesson somewhere in the midst of all the action. Viewers miss the fun of it all, as the movie makes sure to check off each step of the hero’s journey for all five characters.

When April meets the child version of Sanders, she jokes that this kind of thing does not happen to people of color. Personally, I look forward to the day when that joke makes no sense. Eventually there will be enough fantastical movies like this that have burst free from their historically caucasian box and our entertainment as a whole will be better for it.

Normally, I would suggest waiting to see a movie like Little once it is available on your favorite streaming service. It is a perfect movie to watch at home on a rainy afternoon when you’re free to pause and replay at your leisure. But. I also want Hollywood to know that Americans are here for this kind of movie. Is Little a perfect movie? Hell no. But it has a sweet ending, it is full of great jokes, and you will fall in love with Marsai Martin if you have not already.

So do us all a favor and go see this imperfect little gem in a theater. The future of American cinema thanks you.


Have you seen ‘LITTLE’? Well, what did you think? 

Musings on #BOND25 news – New Director, Writers + Cast

Ok, as a massive Bond fan, today’s a big day. Somehow I missed the news that they were going to do a LIVE stream right from Goldeneye, Ian Fleming’s legendary Jamaican villa. Yep, the same exact location where Fleming wrote all those 007 novels.

Apparently next week on April 28 the cast/crew will begin to shoot the still-nameless Bond movie and Daniel Craig will be back to reprise his role as 007.

Bond25 cast and crew at the Jamaican LIVE reveal event

Yeah, so much for all those rumors about who’ll be the next Bond. I mean, the 25th Bond film isn’t out in the US until April 8, 2020 (April 3 in the UK and internationally), but of course the rumor mill will continue endlessly.

In any case, below is the video of the Live Reveal, which honestly isn’t the most exciting video despite it being in such a glorious location. Even most of the cast seemed in a rather gloomy mood, and Craig himself struggled to give a shit explain about the enduring appeal of James Bond when he’s asked that question, ha!

Before I get to the cast, well the main things are who’s making the movie. It’s been confirmed that Cary Joji Fukunaga will direct the film. I’ve only seen one of his films, Jane Eyre, but he’s well-known by US audiences since Beast of No Nation (starring fan-favorite for Bond, Idris Elba) and True Detective series. I gotta say the Japanese-American filmmaker is handsome and dapper enough to actually play 007 (that is in a world where someone of his ethnicity could actually be cast as James Bond)

As for the script, longtime Bond writers Neal Purvis & Robert Wade wrote the original script but now they’re bringing in Scott Z. Burns (Bourne Ultimatum, Contagion, The Informant!) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (creator of Killing Eve series). I actually knew that Scott Z. Burns is involved in Bond 25 when I attended a panel honoring him at the Minneapolis St Paul Film Festival (MSPIFF) where he talked about his roots growing up in Golden Valley, Minnesota and went on to be one of the most acclaimed and prolific writer/director in Hollywood. He might be the first writer to tackle Bourne AND Bond, and I for one am excited to see what he’ll bring to the table.

Now the cast…

Returning cast are Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear, Léa Seydoux, Rory Kinnear, Ben Whishaw and Jeffrey Wright.

I pretty much love every single one of those returning cast members. I do miss Dame Judi Dench as M, but Fiennes is terrific as M. I also love Harris as Money Penny, Whishaw as Q and Wright as Felix. A truly solid group there in Bond’s corner.

INTRODUCING new cast members:

Ana de Armas, Dali Benssalah, David Dencik, Lashana Lynch, Billy Magnussen and Rami Malek.

Now, out of the new group, I’m most intrigued by Lashana Lynch and Rami Malek’s casting. I quite like Lynch as Maria Rambeau in Captain Marvel. I didn’t even know she’s British until I saw her speak in this video, super cool! She and Naomie Harris both have Jamaican roots, so this project must be extra special for them.

As for Rami, this is his first high profile role he’s doing since he won an Oscar for Bohemian Rhapsody AND looks like he’s going to play a Bond villain. He said in a video message that “I will be making sure Mr. Bond does not have an easy ride of it in his 25th outing.” 

I know a lot of people are probably excited for Malek’s casting but at this point it’s kind of meh. Yes I like the diverse casting here. He is Egyptian-American and a good actor, but I don’t see the boyish-looking 38-year old as having the kind of gravitas I expect as a classic Bond villain. Heck, it would have been awesome to see Idris Elba as a Bond villain, now THAT’s a guy that could give any Bond actor a run for his money and he’d probably steal all his ladies, too. If they were bold enough, why not someone like Viola Davis as a Bond villain?

In any case, there are rumors that Christoph Waltz would also be returning as Blofeld. Now I like him as an actor, but he’s so rubbish in Spectre I really don’t care to see him again. So I guess it remains to be seen how Malek would fare in the role, I suppose I should give him the benefit of the doubt.

One thing I am excited about is that Bond is returning to his Jamaican roots. Not only did Fleming wrote his Bond novels in Jamaica, but that’s where the entire franchise kicked off as Dr. No with Sean Connery was filmed there in 1962. Barbara Broccoli gave some hints to the plot in the reveal, “Bond is not on active service when the film starts. He is enjoying himself in Jamaica. We consider Jamaica Bond’s spiritual home. He starts his journey here.” According to Fukunaga, they already shot parts of the movie in Norway (due to weather), but they’ll resume filming in Jamaica the following weeks, Matera in Southern Italy and also Pinewood studios in London.


Well, what do YOU think about Bond 25 news? Let’s hear it!

FlixChatter Review – AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call the release of AVENGERS: ENDGAME as an event, at least to fans of the MCU. If you don’t know what that acronym stands for, but yet you’re curious enough to finally check out just what the fuss is about, I suggest watching a few Marvel movies first in order to fully appreciate what’s going on in this movie. There are 21 MCU movies up until this point, broken down in three phases. ENDGAME, as the title suggest, is the cumulation of the most of the heroes’ journey.

As I was watching the movie, I thought about how much I have come to care about these characters and what they have gone through. Since the release of Iron Man 11 years ago in 2008, there have been multiple new characters being introduced, but in the end, the film pretty much focused on the original six Avengers who survived Thanos’ snap in Avengers: Infinity War. Now, I know there have been calls NOT to spoil the major plot points, though it should go without saying for every movie. FlixChatter readers know I’m very careful about spoilers. That said, it’d be tough to review this film without potentially revealing some key things, so if you prefer to go into the film completely blind, you should stop reading this now [consider yourself warned].

The movie clocks in at 3 hours 1 minute. It’s perhaps the longest superhero movie ever, but there’s just SO much to cover. It actually goes by relatively fast, but that’s not to say there aren’t any slow moments. If the Marvel Cinematic Universe is organized in phases, this movie is comprised of three specific ‘chapters’ if you will. The surviving superheroes (and a powerful new ally) only have one thing in their mind, that is to go after Thanos. It’s quite amusing to see the supreme villain is actually living a rather domesticated life, seemingly not losing much sleep after wiping out half of all living creatures. I’m not going to say how that ‘avenging’ business goes, but the movie then jumps ahead five years.

The second act is perhaps the slowest part of the movie, but I feel like the quieter moments are necessary. Naturally those who survived the snap are in mourning, some have lost more than others… some lost absolutely everything they hold dear. It’s not something people can just move onward and upward, not even those as mighty as the Avengers. As Steve Rogers said in the trailer, ‘Some people move on, but not us.’ Some are dealing with this new ‘post-Thanos snap’ era better than others. One could say they’re all dealing with an intense case of PTSD. Rogers is shown in a therapy session, while Hawkeye and Thor are dealing with this trauma in very different ways. I actually love how this movie is playing with our expectations of certain characters. Let’s just say, some of their um, evolution, for a lack of a better word, is truly amusing and not at all what I expected.

Themes of loss, anguish, regret, vengefulness, sacrifice are all we expect in a film that promises to be ‘the end of the line.’ Those themes are explored well here by writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, brought to life brilliantly by Joe & Anthony Russo. By this time, most of the actors have convincingly embodied their characters. Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth and Jeremy Renner who made up the original six are particularly strong here, with Josh Brolin’s Thanos as the perfect villain. This movie has plenty of genuine emotional moments without being too heavy handed. It’s dark at times without being too brooding or overly gloomy. In fact, there are plenty of funny, witty scenes that provide the perfect levity to balance out the heartbreaking moments.

I’m glad my bladder held out well despite the three-hour running time, so I didn’t miss anything. I have to say though, the level of satisfaction this movie is would depend on how much you care about the characters that have been carefully crafted in the past decade. By the same token, if you’re not familiar with the previous movies, especially the previous Avengers movie, you’d find this movie utterly discombobulating. Even I find the plot rather convoluted and some things don’t make any sense. But most movies involving SPOILER ALERT (highlight if you want to read) time travel, especially involving quantum physics, is bound to be a head-scratcher. Yet that plot device also allows for backstory for certain characters, a walk down memory lane for others and perhaps even a farewell of sort given that the ‘end is near.’ If I were to nitpick however, I find the action spectacle in its finale to be too bombastic for me. It’s a problem for most superhero movies that even the best ones can’t seem to overcome. Fortunately, the Russos remain focused on the characters and what they have lost/stand to lose, which keeps the story grounded despite some overblown action sequences.

We all have our favorite character(s), and mine happens to be the first Avenger. My heart constantly went pitter-patter wondering what’s to become of Captain America. I have avoided reading all the incessant fan theories, and I’m glad I did. Part of the journey is the end. This movie delivers on that premise and it completes many of the characters’ arc in such an emotional way. It also lives up to the ‘whatever it takes’ premise as the Avengers face one impossible odds after another. Thor’s line ‘because that’s what heroes do’ was delivered facetiously in Thor Ragnarok, but here it holds a whole new meaning.

What made the MCU franchise so successful and gratifying to fans is that there’s a unifying thread throughout the movies. Yes, there are parts that have continuity problems–I mean what happened to Wanda aka Scarlet Witch’s Russian accent after Avengers: Age of Ultron?? But in the grand scheme of things, the storylines are so tightly-interwoven that by the time they all assembled in Endgame, we know just how high the stakes are for these characters. It also helps that earth mightiest heroes have a worthy adversary to fight against, which in and of itself is quite a feat. For a movie with such a compelling premise and a humongous build-up, it would be a shame if the payoff is weak. Thankfully that’s not the case here and for that I’m grateful. I’m also glad I packed tissues as it’s an emotional roller coaster of the best kind. Endgame made me laugh out loud one moment, then bawl my eyes out the next.

The film is an artistic and technical marvel. The set pieces are great, which is to be expected for a film of this scale. Alan Silvestri, the original composer of The Avengers, delivers rousing music with his iconic score, but it also sounds perfectly melancholy when it needs to be. What a bittersweet and worthy send-off for a bunch of beloved characters. I don’t even mind watching it again before its theatrical run is over, it’s THAT good.

Bravo to the Russos once again for completing a satisfying finale to such a behemoth franchise. There must have been an enormous pressure on them to deliver and I think, all things considered, they did an astounding job.


What do you think of AVENGERS: ENDGAME? Let’s hear it!

Documentary Spotlight – ‘Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché’ + Interview with writer/director Pamela B. Green

One of the perks of covering film festivals is discovering cinematic gems that I otherwise would not have come across. This is one of those sparkling gems I got to see at MSPIFF this year. Not only is this film speaks of a topic that is near and dear to my heart as a female film critic/screenwriter/filmmaker, Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché is eye-opening, inspiring, captivating and absolutely delightful to watch!

Pamela B. Green’s energetic film about pioneer filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché is both a tribute and a detective story, tracing the circumstances by which this extraordinary artist faded from memory and the path toward her reclamation.


‘Be Natural’ Review

Directed by: Pamela B. Green
Written by: Pamela B. Green, Joan Simon

Have you ever heard of Georges Méliès? The Lumière Brothers? Thomas Edison? Most likely your answer would be yes. But how about Alice Guy-Blaché? If you say ‘Alice who?’ then you’re not alone.

PORTRAIT OF FILMMAKER ALICE GUY-BLACHÉ IN 1912*

I remember feeling really guilty that I didn’t know who Alice Guy was, I mean I consider myself well-versed in cinema history. Or so I thought. But then the opening of this film asked that very question, ‘Have you ever heard of Alice Guy-Blaché?’ to a number of filmmakers working in the industry (i.e. Catherine Hardwicke, Jon M. Chu, Peter Farrelly) and many of them had never heard of her.

FILMMAKER ALICE GUY-BLACHÉ (WITH HAT) ON SET OF THE LIFE OF CHRIST IN FONTAINEBLEAU, FRANCE, IN 1906

By the time Jodie Foster’s voice came on as the narrator, I was glued to the screen, captivated and deeply curious to hear more about this untold story of Alice Guy, the forgotten ‘Mother of Cinema’ who’s seemingly been absent from cinema history through generations. Pamela B. Green has poured her passion and admiration for Alice Guy-Blaché and it shows. She utilized her background in motion design (she’s the founder/owner of Pic Agency in Los Angeles) in her storytelling style. I love that the film goes beyond showing talking heads and an immense wealth of archival photos/footage, but it’s also a thrilling detective story. The animation/motion graphics helped convey the filmmaker and team’s journey in finding the right people to tell Alice Guy’s journey, including her daughter Simone Blaché.

FILMMAKER ALICE GUY-BLACHÉ (CENTER) DIRECTING A PHONOSCÈNE FOR GAUMONT**

It’s immensely inspiring to see a woman behind the camera in the late 1800s. Alice Guy is shown in various photos directing actors on set. By her own account, she made the first narrative films ever in 1896! However, despite having made over 1,000 films, it’s heartbreaking that Alice had to fight to get credit for her work. It’s also astounding that even a hundred years later, there’s still a huge disparity for women behind the camera. I’m SO glad I finally learned about Alice Guy-Blaché and her crucial place in the cinema history. This film is so overdue, yet it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. As more people are championing gender parity in cinema, this film would likely inspire to keep up the good fight.

I can’t recommend this film enough to anyone who loves cinema, whether you’re a casual movie-watcher or involved in filmmaking at any capacity. Check out where this film is playing next on their official website.

* Photo courtesy of Be Natural Productions
** Photo courtesy of Anthony Slide


Check out the trailer:


Quick Bio on Pamela B. Green

Originally from New York, Pamela B. Green lived most of her life in Europe and Israel and as a result, is fluent in English, French, Italian, and Hebrew. In 2005, she founded PIC, an entertainment and motion design boutique based in Los Angeles, California. Green’s work ranges from feature film main titles, motion graphics, creative directing, directing and producing music videos and commercials. She is known in the industry for creating titles sequences and story sequences using her knowledge of graphic design, animation, editorial, and archival rare stock footage research.

Q&A with filmmaker Pamela B. Green

As soon as I saw Be Natural film, I went on Twitter to share about the film and to thank Pamela for shining a light on such a cinematic pioneer & visionary who’s somehow forgotten/omitted from film history books. I then contacted Pamela via her official site and was thrilled that I got to chat with her over the phone last Wednesday. Check out my Q&A below on some insights into her filmmaking journey.

Q1: What inspired you to tell Alice Guy’s story and let the world know that she is the true #MotherOfCinema?

I saw a tv show about women pioneers in cinema which included her. The show mentioned Mary Pickford (who co-founded Pickford–Fairbanks Studio with Douglas Fairbanks) who’s also well-known as an actress. But the fact that Alice Guy had done so much and had her own studio, she stood out. I had never heard of her at that point, and the more people I asked, I realized that many people also had never heard of her. I did more research and talked to some people in the academics community who said ‘oh everyone knows about Alice’ which made me angry because that [statement] is not true. Only a small group of academics knew about her.

I kept asking people that I work with in Hollywood, those I do jobs for, studios, and nobody had heard of her. I decided to do something about it. At that point I wasn’t sure what it would be yet, but coincidentally I was working with Robert Redford on a couple of films. On a second film, I told him about Alice and he was shocked as well. He said ‘well what are you going to do about this?’ Then I said, well I think I should do a documentary because I don’t think there’s enough work has been done to really explore Alice besides the academic aspect, restoring her films, documenting what she had done, etc. but it wasn’t a full exploration of her.

FILM STILL OF BESSIE LOVE (CENTER) IN THE GREAT ADVENTURE (1918), DIRECTED BY ALICE GUY-BLACHÉ – Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art

Q2: How long ago was this, that this journey started?

Oh a long time ago. In 2011 I was talking about this. Then we did a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 which was quite successful. Then the head of Geena Davis’ institute [SheJane.org] found out about it and then she talked to a big producers Geralyn White Dreyfous, Regina K. Scully, Jamie Wolf who came on board. They’re not part of Hollywood, but people who often fund social issues pertaining to women. Hugh Hefner and Jodie Foster also came on board as executive producers. They’re all visionaries who understood right away why I had to make this film. Instead of having to fight the system in Hollywood, I went the other way and they really helped me.

Q3: Did you face resistance from people who try to maintain the status quo of cinema history?

Yes. I get a lot of resistance from France, the Academics, professors. And Hollywood didn’t fund this movie. I mean they participated but Hollywood didn’t fund this movie. It’s completely donation-based. The ‘wallets’ just wasn’t available I guess, so I got funding from social media and these wonderful women. Barbara Bridges from the Denver Film Society is one, basically a lot of women behind the men who helped fund this movie, a lot of philanthropist women helped tell this story. The film is also distributed independently, outside of the studio system. But I see it as a positive thing, I was able to make the movie that I wanted to make, and marketed it the way I wanted to market it. There’s not many ‘fingers in the pot’ while I was making the film.

Q4: I love that the film also plays like a detective story, and the motion graphics helped convey that so wonderfully. Was that a conscious decision on your part to tell the story that way?

Yes, from the very beginning. I wanted to have Skype interviews, contact people around the world. Some people in the industry said to me ‘It wouldn’t be aesthetically correct. Why would you do that? It would look bad, what do you know about editing, etc.’ So I got a lot of resistance and people saying that I didn’t know what I was doing while making this film. So it’s similar to how Alice Guy was treated and had to deal with, that is having people second-guessing her as a filmmaker.

A still from the documentary

Q5: Where can people see Alice Guy’s extensive work? Is there plans to make her work readily available to the public?

Our film opened at Laemmle’s Monica Film Center on Friday, April 19. Then IFC Center in New York on April 26, then slowly we’re opening in multiple cities in the US and internationally [check out the film’s official site for schedule].

As far as Alice Guy’s films, there’s the Gaumont DVD collection [available on Amazon]. Kino Lorber Distribution company has some of her American films which they’ve released as part of the Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers disc [available on Amazon]. I’m also working on doing her American collections available for streaming. There are about 150 of her films in existence and we’re setting up a foundation that would hopefully support that venture.


Follow the film journey online:


Thanks so much Pamela B. Green for chatting with FlixChatter!

MSPIFF 2019 Review: RED JOAN

Given that I have a thing for spy films AND I adore Dame Judi Dench, I knew I had to see Red Joan the second I saw the trailer. Dame Judi is best known to most moviegoers as James Bond’s tough-as-nails boss M, so the idea of her playing a British-born former spy who transfers nuclear bomb secrets to the Soviets is undoubtedly intriguing. Red Joan is more in the vein of John Le Carré’s slo-burn type than an action-packed Bond flick, with most of the story told in flashback mode.

The film begins in modern day with the 80-something Joan Stanley tending her English garden. Suddenly there’s a knock at the door and she’s charged with treason and whisked away by MI-5 for interrogation. Then we’re transported to Cambridge in the late 1930s. Young Joan (Sophie Cookson) is a bright, studious physics student who meets a new, rather mysterious fellow student Sonya (Tereza Srbova) who climbs through her window in a party dress. Her new charming, persuasive friend later takes Joan to a ‘film night,’ which is a cover for a meet-up with communist party sympathizer. The subsequent meetings and rendezvous with a Soviet-born student Leo (Tom Hughes) propel Joan into the world of espionage.

As I mentioned above, if you expect a high-octane thriller a la Bond, Bourne or Atomic Blonde, then you’ll be sorely disappointed. I for one enjoy both, there’s plenty of room for both styles in the genres. Inspired by the true story of Melitta Norwood, dubbed the “most important female agent ever recruited by the USSR,” Joan’s covert activities in the top secret nuclear research facility are far more grounded. The fact that back in the day women in the office were regarded as nothing more than secretaries was perhaps an advantage for female spies. Physics was (and still is) a male-dominated field where male chauvinism was the norm. On the flip side, it also makes Joan the perfect spy, as few would suspect that she’d possess the intellect to discern what the covert agency was building, let alone have the audacity to share those plans with the enemy.

Director Trevor Nunn, famous for his Shakespearean adaptations, adapted Norwood’s story based on Lindsay Shapero‘s script. Overall it’s a handsomely mounted production that should please fans of period pieces. The more I mull over this film though, there’s just something wanting. For one, because of the extensive flashback scenes, there isn’t enough of Dame Judi on screen for my liking. She’s billed as the lead, but Cookson clearly has the most screen time. But even with two actors playing the same character, the film barely scratches the surface in depicting a multi-layered woman in one of the most interesting times in history. Nunn depicts a series of espionage activities rather than deliver a compelling character study.  We barely get any insight into who Joan really is, her background, and why she did what she did. Even as her son Nick (Ben Miles) berated her ‘how could you?!’ and constantly asking her why, we only get generic answers like ‘I’m not a traitor… I love my country.’ 

For a film about a world filled with secrets, intrigue and imminent danger of being caught, the film also lacks any real tension. At times the romance get overly melodramatic that it often overpowers the story. I guess it’s a matter of expectations–I was expecting more of a mystery/suspense thriller than a spy romance. The performances are uneven as well. Cookson is quite fascinating to watch as a conflicted young woman who often finds herself in impossible situations. Naturally Joan is drawn to men who believe in her and sees her as her equal. As Leo, Tom Hughes comes across as rather lackluster and not charismatic enough for a supposedly sly, seductive character. Stephen Campbell Moore as Professor Max, Joan’s boss-turned-lover, fares a bit better here in a smaller role. Dame Judi herself is always solid, but given her immense acting cred, her talents is largely wasted in this film.

The biggest miss-opportunity any film could make is when it places its focus on the wrong thing, and I feel that it’s the case with Red Joan. It’s one of those movies that was entertaining enough because of the cast, but in the end I can’t help wonder what it could’ve been. Joan was described at one point as ‘one of the quickest minds in atomic physics,’ I wish the film had been as razor-sharp as its own protagonist.


Have you seen RED JOAN? What did you think?

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FlixChatter Review: PET SEMATARY (2019)

GuestPost_Vince

Directed by: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Starring: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jeté Laurence and John Lithgow

A year prior to graduating high school I had seen Mary Lambert’s 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary in the theaters. Yeah – remember those? (I’m looking at you streaming fans). I was on a date and a horror movie seemed like a perfect choice at the time and King’s novels were very popular with the bookish kids in my grade, although I was still wading my way through the first hundred or so pages of The Stand notwithstanding (to pardon a pun). While I recall the slickness of the production, and perhaps a Ramones song or two in the film, it did its purpose but not much else. Scary it was not at the time but I enjoyed seeing Fred Gwynn in a role sans Munster makeup. He was quite good in it.

Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer’s 2019 adaptation sticks with the original premise: Louis (Jason Clarke) and Rachel Creed (Amy Seimetz) have moved their family (daughter Ellie and toddler Gage) out to the country to escape the stresses of the big city and in Louis’ case, the pressures of being an ER doc at the city hospital. Once settled in, they discover a makeshift pet cemetery the neighborhood kids created. Apparently, as the film implies, the road that passes through the area takes many pets’ lives.

John Lithgow plays Jud, their amiable, strange and dusty next door neighbor who gives them a vague history of the place and whom Ellie strikes up an innocent friendship. On Halloween, the Creed’s cat Church (after Churchill, funnily one of Lithgow’s famous roles) is killed on said road. Rather than telling Ellie the truth, the couple tells her Church ran away. Jud, conscious of Ellie’s feelings decides to help out by leading Louis to an ancient site in the forest beyond the cemetery and instructs Louis to bury their cat. A day later, Church is reanimated and returns to the house but something isn’t quite right. This is when the story takes a terrifying turn… (I’ll stop there to avoid spoilers).

Now in 2019, as a father of two young kids, I can understand why King considered this novel as awful and terrible and one he was reluctant to publish as “it just spirals down into darkness.” The themes here are familiar: guilt, trauma, denial and grief. However, King’s story and the filmmakers’ use of them with effective means and from a cerebral level is outright horrifying. You could call it a twisted Lazarus or Frankenstein story with dashes of the Golem.

The first 2/3 of the film is all this, effective, dreamlike with a touch of simplicity. It’s a great modern day horror story in the traditional sense with great atmospherics and good performances by Clarke, Seimetz and Lithgow. The last 1/3 of the film settles into predictability but in a sense, it really couldn’t go any other way. When the campiness started creeping in during the film’s finale, I must admit I welcomed it. It gave me respite from the story’s main themes – a sense of relief. While it is a flawed film, the filmmakers’ choice to keep it simple and not inundate it with effects and adrenalized editing is commendable.

At its core Pet Sematary is a family tragedy; loving parents who with their overprotectiveness and good intentions set into motion a terrible chain of events. The worst part is that we can relate to Louis’ actions even in its insanity – above all, when loss is coupled with guilt and denial and not given the right to mourn or grieve thus preventing it from running its natural course. As a horror film, Pet Sematary works quite well. But it is the idea in King’s story that really makes it horrifying at a deep archetypical level.

Vince_review


So what do you think of PET SEMATARY? Let us know what you think!

MSPIFF 2019 Spotlight: Stalag Luft III – One Man’s Story & interview w/ filmmaker Louise Woehrle

There are countless of stories of war that have been depicted on screen, whether narratives or documentaries. They are inherently fascinating to me, and I’m especially intrigued by stories of survival, especially when told by the survivors themselves, as in the case of this remarkable WWII documentary with a Minnesota connection.

Told by U.S. Eighth Air Force Bombardier Lt. Charles Woehrle, one of 10,000 prisoners in Stalag Luft III – depicted in the movie ‘The Great Escape.’ At age 93 this remarkable man, a gifted storyteller, relives his experiences with vivid detail. His personal account of being shot down, captured by the Nazi’s and surviving two long years of tremendous hardship is filled with grit and grace.


MSPIFF Screenings:

Parkway TheaterTue, Apr 9 7:00 PM

St. Anthony Main Theatre 2 – Sun, Apr 14 4:15 PM (RUSH ONLY)

Marcus Rochester Cinema – Fri, Apr 19 7:00 PM


Stalag Luft III – One Man’s Story Review:

In the promotional material for the film fest, the film is billed as ‘saga filled with grit and grace.’ I couldn’t agree more after seeing the film, I feel that it was how the late Lt. Charles Woehrle lived all his life… up until he passed away at the age of 98. It’s truly a good thing that Mr. Woehrle’s niece Louise is a gifted filmmaker, as she brought her uncle’s story to life so beautifully.

Though this film depicts a harrowing story, it has such hopeful, uplifting tone, a certain quiet grace that shines through when the then 93-year-old Charles Woehrle told his story on camera. Director Louise Woehrle used footage from 13+ hours of interviews with her late uncle, and combined them with various photos, real footage, countless memorabilia, plus re-enactment scenes to tell an inspiring tale of survival.

Lt. Woehrle capture shot with fellow comrades in Allied prison camp

Lieutenant Woehrle spent 22 months at Stalag Luft III prison camp along with other Allied officers. This film allowed him to provide the voice for his fellow comrades who couldn’t tell their own stories. There’s also a delightful story about how he received an unexpected gift from Patek Philippe, the luxury watch company from Geneva while he was a prisoner of war. I was so invested in the soldiers’ stories that when I saw the footage of General Patton liberating the Allied prison camps, I literally cheered. As a movie fan, I was amused to see footage of classic Hollywood star Clark Gable who joined the Army Air Force and was part of the 351st Bombardment Group.

This is a film told with passion and care. The amount of meticulous details is astounding, and they’re woven together seamlessly with the ‘talking head’ interviews and re-enactments to tell a cohesive story that’s suspenseful, thrilling, deeply-touching and inspiring. I have to mention the wonderful music which mixes the classic theme from The Great Escape by Elmer Bernstein, as well as those made specifically for this film. Great music adds such richness to the whole experience and that is definitely the case here.

I’m glad I got to see this film and learn more about a real life hero, as well as others whose stories are told through him. A brilliant showcase of the triumph of the human spirit. Lt. Woehrle’s and his comrades’ experience certainly gives me a whole new appreciation about life and the freedom we enjoy every day.

Q&A with filmmaker Louise Woehrle

Q1. What sparked the idea that you wanted to tell your uncle’s story?

The idea was sparked after my dad died in 2006. I was still working on my feature documentary Pride of Lions (co-directed with my brother John Woehrle) so I knew it couldn’t happen right away. By 2010 when my uncle was age 93, I could wait no longer, and that’s when I got busy. I knew that even if my uncle passed away after I shot his interviews in the studio, I could still tell his story.

Q2. Sounds like you filmed this five years before your uncle passed (when he was 93), how long was the interview process with him specifically? 

The interview process happened in 3 in-studio interview sessions, lasting 3-4 hours each. I had subsequent interviews at his apartment later.

Q3. Did you learn new things about his tale you didn’t know before? 

Yes, I learned a lot of new things. The one that stands out the most is the watch story. We had been shooting at a Stalag Luft III reunion in Detroit. I was interviewing a PoW who was on oxygen. He was wearing a Rolex watch that was broken and he said he never took it off because he had it in prison camp. So, when my uncle and I were flying back to Minneapolis, I asked him if he had a watch in camp? He looked at me and said, “Let me tell you a story about a watch.” That’s the first time I heard about the Patek Philippe. I think it was never mentioned because his house was robbed in the 70s and the watch was one of the stolen valuables. He just moved on and did not talk about it. I knew, at that moment, what that watch meant to him and so began my search for the watch and ultimately a replacement watch from Patek Philippe.

Q4.When watching the film, I was astounded by the amount of details of footage, photos, memorabilia, etc. that really makes for effective documentary storytelling. Would you share a bit about the research and process of collecting all of those items?

My uncle held on to his WWII documents, logbook, journal, artifacts, letters from home, Patek documents and the negatives from the photos he took at the end of the war with the Voigtlander camera that ended up in the Nuremberg Trials. I also attained scans from Col. Clark’s photo collection from the Air Force Academy Library. Those photos were taken with clandestine cameras by the PoWs. I also worked with the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley in Little Falls, MN. They provided uniforms, tin cups, red cross parcels, the French Box car and more.

Charles Woehrle’s POW ID card

I was able to attain 2 film reels from the footage that was used in William Wiley’s 1944 documentary film Memphis Belle: The Story of a Flying Fortress. 16 mm reels from an archival film licensing online platform, Critical Past. I did a deal with them. If they sent me the reels of film, we would do the digital transfer for them. My colorist, Dave Sweet at Pixel Farm specializes in the transfer of 16mm and 35mm. Because we worked out an even trade, Critical Past did not charge for the use of the film. I also scored on the use of the B-17 from EAA in Wisconsin. That’s a whole other story of convincing them why they should work with me. All things led back to Uncle Charles and his true story. He lived it and we get to document that story!  It was a 95-degree day when they landed for 4 hours at Anoka Airport. I had to rent commercial air conditioning units so none of our re-enactors would pass out from heat stroke with all that gear on.

Q5.I thought the re-enactment scenes were well-crafted and looked very believable. How’s the process of casting the actors and recreating those air battle scenes? 

We used green screen while shooting the B-17 on the ground at the Anoka airport. The goal was to shoot as much as we could with the limited time that we had. VFX were always going to be a part of the equation but I had no idea how far we could take it. I saw this sequence as being critical to the film. I was working with one of my several shooters on the project, Alex Fournier, who also assisted in some editing too. He studied art at the Chicago Institute of Art so he had a real talent for learning VFX. Alex fell down the rabbit hole learning what he needed to make a bullet coming through the fuselage look real, taking a still image and animating it and creating a scene of jumping out of the B-17 look real. He must have worked for 3 months, straight. I was very involved in editing that sequence. I knew it had to have the right rhythm to work and so did Jim Stanger, my editor who seamlessly connected each piece. Splice came in and took the VFX to the next level with their contributions.

For the B-17 air battle sequence, I had to rely on Minnesota Military Museum’s help, specifically historians Doug Thompson and Charlie Pautler. I told them that I wanted young guys for the roles who were in shape and could wear their hair short. My historians delivered a great group. I also used some of the same guys on the forced march sequence. Three of the PoWs were family, my son Luke Enyeart (age 19), nephew, Dylan Woehrle and my uncle Charles grandson, George Kelly. Keep in mind, none of my reenactors were actual actors. The only true actor in the film was the voice over for Charles mother, Anna. That was voiced by veteran actor Sally Wingert. The woman who played the mother role, Joan Lambert had acted in high school and she was a mother, therefore, she could relate to the story. How I found Joan is yet another serendipitous event.

Q6. Did you make contact with any of Charles’ former crew that you’re making this film?

Actually, it was a family member of one of my uncle’s fellow crew members who contacted me. The daughter of Sgt. Charles Eaton (Top Turret) who is standing next to Charles in the photo of the 4 PoWs standing after they were captured. Eaton is standing next to my Uncle. They pretended they did not know each other. The daughter called me because her dad did not talk about the war and she hoped that Uncle Charles could shed some light on some unanswered questions. I arranged a conference call with Charles, the daughter and her sister and myself. They asked what their dad was like back then because the man they grew up with seemed fractured emotionally from the war. Their dad could never get over the fact that he could not get the radio operator to jump. The kid was too scared so he went down with the plane. After Uncle Charles told them about want a great guy he was and how you could always count on him, etc. they started to cry. Later they wrote to us and said how healing it was to talk to my Uncle and that it explained a lot. Uncle Charles also told them that their dad did everything he could to help the radio operator but had to jump at the last second to save his own life.

Lt. Woehrle cooking with his bunkmates

Q7. And was it Charles’ idea to honor their stories, as in providing a voice for those who didn’t make it?

Uncle Charles honored his fellow airmen, always. When he went to France as the last survivor of the crew, he took it upon himself to represent all his crew in the best way he knew how. He documented every part of the trip and put together books for each family of the crew and sent to them. He felt it was his duty as the last man standing. That’s just how he lived his life. So when you ask, was it his idea to provide a voice for those who did not make it, I would have to say yes. Was it my idea to include that theme in the film? Yes. The mission for Whirlygig Productions from inception in 2002: “Telling stories that help us see ourselves and others in new ways, promote healing and connect us as human beings.” I have shortened the tag line to “Shining a light on stories that need to be told.” For me, there always needs to be the purpose of a greater good that can come from a story. Uncle Charles lived his story, I was lucky enough to document it through this film.

Q8. Sounds like your uncle lives his life with ‘grit and grace.’ Would you share one personal moment of you and your uncle that you’ll always carry with you?

Yes – one day we were talking over dinner and I asked him who in the family reminded him of my Dad (his identical twin). I was thinking one of my 4 brothers, maybe my sons. He gently pointed his finger at me. I was moved. Uncle Charles and I were there for each other – at that moment, I understood our connection on another level.

Louise at age 14 with her uncle Charles at the piano

Q9. The moment where Charles went to a Detroit Air Show is very moving, esp when he got inside the bomber airplane similar to his B-17. Please tell me one of your favorite moments making this film.

Well, that was one of my favorite moments because up until that point he was telling me there would be no way he would ever get into a B-17 again after all he had been through. So when the young captain on the tarmac asked Uncle Charles if he wanted to go up into the plane and he said “no, no, no,” and the guy driving the golf cart said “yes, yes, yes,” or something like that…something switched in him and he did it! I was blown away. It brought a lot of joy to not only him, but the rest of us watching him.

Lt. Woehrle with Louise at the Detroit Air Show

Q10. I love the music used throughout and you’re credited as the Music Supervisor. I noticed that you used the theme from The Great Escape film by Elmer Bernstein.

Thank you. Music is the bedrock of my storytelling. I studied music growing up and into college. I became a music therapy major at the U of Minnesota. Music is integral to every story. When we were editing the Stalag Luft III prison camp sequence my editor, Jim Stanger asked if we could use the music from the Great Escape movie to get us in the spirit of being there. Of course, I said yes but was worried we would get so attached that I would never be able to find music to replace it. Elmer Bernstein composed beautifully to the spirit of that film. Well, as I thought, I got attached to the music so much that I reached out to the Elmer Bernstein Family Foundation. They referred me to Sony ATV. It took 4 months of emails back and forth with detailed examples of how the music cues would work with the sequences. Finally, they said yes and allowed me to use 4 cues at a minimal fee. They understood this was an independent film about a pretty impressive man who lived the real Stalag Luft III. I am very grateful that they got on board.

Q11. How did you select the music for this film?

I have a good sense of what a scene or sequence needs emotionally and musically. I used that inner knowing when diving into the various music libraries. The right music sort of jumps out at me. I lost myself for days looking for various music cues. There were a few cues that my editors used to cut to that we left in too. My music editor Ken Chastain did a great job providing transitional music or creating certain classics, like Silent Night, Amazing Grace or tonal segues.

My son Luke Enyeart composed 4 cues after Uncle Charles capture and during his time in the cold and hardship in prison camp. Luke wrote a couple of the cues with his good friend Will Honaker. Luke’s primary instrument is the guitar. He has composed music for 4 of my film projects and possesses great emotional intelligence in his music. You can’t teach that.

Q12. Lastly, what would you want people to take away from after seeing this film?

I hope they feel like their hearts have been opened and tended to by the life of Charles Woehrle. I hope they can walk away feeling inspired by kindness, compassion, and love for our fellow man. I want future generations to know how much we owe the Greatest Generation and hope that my Uncle’s story starts a conversation and offers some healing for families like the Charles Eaton’s.


Follow the film journey online:


Thanks so much Louise Woehrle for chatting with FlixChatter!