TWIN CITIES FILM FEST unveils 2019 lineup! 100+ Premieres + Critically-acclaimed award season favorites

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, TCFF pulls out all the stops in presenting a phenomenal lineup this year. I have been covering TCFF since its inception year and so to me, every year is truly special, but I have to say that this year’s lineup is absolutely phenomenal!!!

Featuring 100+ premieres and award season favorites (many of TCFF spotlight/opening night films went on to win Oscars!), it’s no hyperbole to say this is going to be the best TCFF year yet!!

OPENING NIGHT TO CELEBRATE LAUDED TORONTO WINNER JOJO RABBIT & ACADEMY AWARD NOMINEE TALIA SHIRE

More than 60 percent of 2019 program driven by female filmmakers; other top festival darlings set to debut in Minnesota include Marriage Story, Waves, Honey Boy, Motherless Brooklyn, Just Mercy, A Hidden Life, The Aeronauts, Premature and Saint Frances


Minneapolis, Minnesota (September 19, 2019) — Twin Cities Film Fest (TCFF) announces its full schedule for their 2019 festival, set to take place October 16-26 at the Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON Theatres at The Shops at West End. Coming off an electrifying September gala that celebrated filmmaker and Minnesota native Jim Burke, the producer behind Green Book which took home both this year’s Academy Award for Best Picture and last year’s top festival prize, TCFF 2019 marks the organization’s 10th anniversary and arrives with a special focus on both female filmmakers and films that advance this year’s social justice cause: environmental sustainability.

Taika Waititi in JOJO RABBIT

Among the top awards contenders from the festival circuit set to land at TCFF next month are Taika Waititi’s Holocaust dramedy Jojo Rabbit (Oct. 16) which last weekend took home the top prize at the Toronto International Film Festival — often considered an early harbinger of what could contend for Best Picture in the winter — as well as Noah Baumbach’s marital drama Marriage Story, headlined by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson and recognized as this year’s TCFF Breakthrough Vision (Oct. 19), and Trey Edward Shults’s lauded family drama Waves, starring Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Lucas Hedges and honored as this year’s Virtuoso Selection (Oct. 26).

Other notable studio entries include the new Eddie Redmayne-Felicity Jones hot air balloon adventure The Aeronauts (Oct. 17); Terrence Malick’s war epic A Hidden Life (Oct. 20); the star-studded Edward Norton-directed crime drama Motherless Brooklyn (Oct. 24); and the stunning Shia LaBeouf-penned biopic Honey Boy with Director Alma Har’el in attendance (Oct. 21).

This year’s kickoff double feature on Oct. 16 will spotlight both the lauded Jojo Rabbit and Robert Jury’s Working Man, the official 2019 Opening Night Selection. A humble and heartfelt independent feature about a Rust Belt town coping with the closure of its last factory and the emergence of an unlikely hero who partners with his neighbors to break his way back into the shuttered shop, the film stars Peter Gerety from The Wire and two-time Academy Award nominee Talia Shire (The Godfather: Part II and Rocky), who will both be in attendance.

TCFF’s 2019 Centerpiece is Inside the Rain, Aaron Fisher’s autobiographical directing debut about a bipolar college student facing expulsion over conduct violations who hatches a madcap scheme to prove his innocence. The film co-stars Rosie Perez and Eric Roberts. Both Roberts and Fisher will be in attendance Oct. 18.

The festival closes Oct. 26 with Premature, Rashaad Ernesto Green’s electrifying coming-of-age drama about a teenager in New York City navigating her last summer — and an unexpected romance — before heading to college.  The film has earned rave reviews on the festival circuit, particularly for its vulnerable and hypnotic lead performance from Zora Howard; the Hollywood Reporter hailed the film as “a stirring coming-of-ager with a knockout lead turn.”

A still from ‘Premature’

Howard will be present for the closing night festivities, marking the culmination of a program that has prioritized projects made by female filmmakers. More than 60 percent of this year’s TCFF selections were directed or produced by women, continuing the organization’s push to create a home for works from a more diverse range of artists.

“When I founded this festival, I said it would be a home for all visions, all audiences and all artists — and to see us cross the mark in our tenth year, of having the majority of our selections created by female filmmakers, is to see our original mission fulfilled,” said Jatin Setia, TCFF’s Executive Director. “What’s even more powerful, and what has kept us going through the decade, is hearing how our big tent of filmmakers has inspired and motivated the next generation of Minnesota artists, who tell us that they thought a film career might be impossible. To now see those high schoolers come of age, and to see them return to our festival as debut directors…it’s everything an arts organization can hope for. It fills my soul.”

Special 35th anniversary celebration of Purple Rain to headline festival on Wednesday, Oct. 23

October 23 will feature Purple Rain night at the festival, with a special free 35th anniversary screening of the Prince rock musical at 6:45 p.m. and a Prince-themed afterparty to follow. Albert Magnoli, the director of the 1984 hit, will be making a rare appearance after the screening to discuss the film. Although the screening is free, tickets are still required for the reserved seats and can be obtained at ShowplaceIcon.com.

Every year Twin Cities Film Fest identifies a Social Justice Cause and programs a special series of films to call attention to a specific social issue. This year’s cause is “environmental responsibility” and the film series kicks off Oct. 17 with Roger Sorkin’s documentary Current Revolution, which envisions the next generation of America’s aging electrical grid. The series continues with Juice: How Electricity Explains the World (Oct. 18); Youth Unstoppable (Oct. 19); Food Coop (Oct. 19); Salvage (Oct. 23); and Sustainable Nation (Oct. 23).  TCFF Changemaker Partner for 2019 is the St. Louis Park Non Profit, Matter.

A still from ‘International Falls’

Among this year’s slate of “Minnesota-connected” premieres are International Falls (Oct. 19), a look at the fragile life of a touring comic and his chance connection with a hotel worker in a dead-end marriage. The film was shot in northern Minnesota and stars comedienne Rachel Harris (Natural SelectionSuits). On the lighter side, Raising Buchanan (Oct. 25) is a caper-driven comedy about two working women trying to profit from stealing the dead body of President Buchanan, played by notable character actor Rene Auberjonois (Star TrekMadame Secretary). Rounding out the 18 titles in this year’s Minnesota-connected program is The Truth About Marriage (Oct. 18), the latest thought-provoking documentary from director Roger Nygard (Trekkies).


I’ll post the complete schedule later with some of my most-anticipated selections!

Tickets will be on-sale September 21, 2019 for TCFF Members and Pass holders and to the public beginning September 27, 2019.

Ticket prices are $13 for General Admission & $20 for Spotlight Films. Festival Passes can also be purchased as follows: Silver Pass – $55 (5 pack of non-Gala tickets); Gold Pass – $90 (10 pack of non-Gala tickets); Platinum Pass – $130 (12 pack of non-Gala tickets + 2 Gala tickets); Spotlight Pass – $100 (6 tickets to any Spotlight Film).

The passes are such an incredible deal!! Get it soon so you can order your tickets right away. Trust me, it’s SO worth it!!

PLUS… All tickets guarantee admission to that evening’s afterparty in the TCFF Lounge located onsite at The Shops at West End.


To learn more about TCFF, events, film submissions or to donate, visit twincitiesfilmfest.org


So yeah, TCFF 2019. BRING. IT ON!

FlixChatter Review: Downton Abbey (2019)

The popular period drama tv series spanning six seasons is back. This time on the big screen, also written by its creator, Julian Fellowes. I’ve only watched the first two seasons in its entirety, then sporadically after that, enough to understand who’s who in the Crawley family. If you have never seen a single episode of the series, you might find this who’s-who featurette handy. WARNING: There are some mild spoilers here, so if you prefer to go in blind, proceed with caution.

As the trailer has promised us, the film once again takes place at the sprawling estate in the English countryside. It’s set in Highclere Castle, which has just been listed on Airbnb, conveniently announced the same week the film’s US release 😉 The film opens with the Crawleys receiving royal mail… which then sets the motion for the upstairs/downstairs drama of the family preparing for a visit by King George V and Queen Mary (which is inspired by true events you can read about here). I think it’s ingenious that Fellowes places the fictitious Crawley family and their servants in context of real life events, such as the Titanic, Britain’s general election, and now the Royal visit.

The movie could’ve easily been made into 2-3 one-hour episodes with dizzying number of storylines jam-packed into a 2-hour running time. My friend who went with me to the early screening counted at least 9-10 different plots as we drove home… some are completely frivolous, mixed with a few intriguing ones. I thought the feud between servants and the royal entourage is amusing, though borderline absurd at times. There are SO many characters who’re all vying to get our attention, given they barely get a few minutes in before the plot jumps to something else.

Penelope Wilton & Dame Maggie Smith

Of course Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (the great Dame Maggie Smith) is my personal favorite from the series, and she’s got her share of fun, GIF-worthy snarky remarks in this movie as well. But of the male characters, widower Tom Branson (Allen Leech), the former driver who’s now part of the family, gets the most screen time here. First, there’s a mysterious military guy (Stephen Campbell Moore) who despite his seemingly-friendly encounter becomes increasingly suspicious that he has grand designs on the royal visit. There’s also [SPOILER ALERT!] a potential romance between him and Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton), the maid of Queen Mary’s lady-in-waiting (Imelda Staunton) who happens to be Robert’s estranged cousin. There’s apparently a falling out over some inheritance issue, which creates some hilarious shenanigans involving Violet and her ‘bestie’ Isobel Merton (Penelope Wilton).

Tuppence Middleton and Allen Leech

There’s no lack of drama downstairs either. I mentioned the feud between the servants and the arrogant royal entourage, which entangles practically every single one of the servants. Some of the shenanigans are quite hilarious, thanks to the over-eager Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) who could barely holds his excitement to serve the royals! As the power struggle went on in Downton, Thomas (Robert James-Collier) has a night on the town, which provides an opportunity for a LGBTQ commentary on the legal repercussions of being gay in 1920s England. Thomas is a tough character to love given his past shenanigans at Downton, but one can’t help feel for him here.

The one scene that stays with me the most is a chance encounter between Branson and Princess Mary, more so because he didn’t know of her identity at the time. I think Tom is one of the most sympathetic characters in the series– someone from humble beginnings who has to straddle both worlds. The chance encounter ends up having quite a profound effect on the Princess who’s going through some personal struggles, which we later learn in the film.

Dame Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery

Besides Violet, Lady Mary is definitely a memorable character in her own right. Michelle Dockery portrays her perfectly as a wise, dutiful, often-conflicted who seems colder than she appears. There is a sweet, poignant scene between her and her beloved grandmother towards the end of the movie. I do appreciate that even for a film set in 1920s, the film shows plenty of strong women, both upstairs and downstairs, who are no shrinking violet [pun intended]. [SPOILER ALERT!] Speaking of Violet, think this might also be the last Downton movie we’d see her in, and Fellowes has carved her a graceful exit. One thing I’m definitely disappointed with is the lack of Mathew Goode, whose appearance is basically a cameo despite being listed so high on IMDb cast list!

Director Michael Engler (whose background is in stage directing) does his best juggling so many plot lines, but at times the movie feels jumpy and discombobulating to follow. There are a couple of mildly suspenseful moments, but mostly the movie is expectedly a tranquil affair. The visuals are gorgeous thanks to cinematographer Ben Smithard. And of course John Lunn‘s lush score is so iconic that even hearing a couple of notes of it immediately makes me want to return to Downton! The costumes and set design of the series have always been impeccable, and they turned them up a notch in this grand cinematic treatment. From the elegant dinners to the festive Royal parade through Downton Village, it would certainly make fans of the British royal family brimming with glee.

Overall it’s an entertaining movie if you’re into period dramas. Even with certain scenes some period drama fans might consider risqué, overall the movie plays it safe, aiming mostly for a feel-good vibe that won’t ruffle too much feathers. Fans of Downton would likely get the most enjoyment out of this movie, but casual moviegoers might still be entertained by the upstairs/downstairs shenanigans of British aristocrats.


Have you seen Downton Abbey movie? Let me know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: HUSTLERS (2019)

Written & Directed By: Lorene Scafaria
Runtime: 1 hour 50 minutes

Inspired by a Jessica Pressler article from late 2015, Hustlers is the real-life story of a group of women who became sexy 21st century Robin Hoods, stealing from wealthy men and enriching – well, themselves, mostly. But so did Robin Hood. That whole “give to the poor” schtick was a pretty late add to the Robin Hood mythos. Hustlers might be based on a true story, but it is enough of a fictionalization that the characters names have been changed and, last I heard, the woman who inspired the Ramona character is planning to sue Jennifer Lopez for misrepresenting her.

All that said, even as a completely fabricated story, Hustlers stands as a fun buddy comedy with just enough drama and hardship thrown in to keep the stakes high. The screenplay (written by director Lorene Scafaria, most well-known for the 2015 indie flick The Meddler) is sexy, dark, witty, and warm. There are several fun cameos: Cardi B was my favorite, but Lizzo made a brief appearance and Usher has a scene that is guaranteed to put a giant, goofy grin on every 90s kid’s face.

Scafaria places the viewers in time with a very intentionally crafted soundtrack. Britney Spears, Sean Kingston, Lorde, Usher, and Fiona Apple exist alongside their fashion counterparts of bebe, Louboutin, Juicy, Coach, and more. The audience can always be confident of what year it is because Scafaria is so good at giving her viewers auditory and visual cues.

Unsurprisingly, Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians, Fresh off the Boat) both give incredible performances. Jennifer Lopez shines as Ramona, the mastermind and glue of the operation. Her character is a tough-talking, warm hearted woman who takes no shit and is always there to build up the women in her life. Lopez gives an understated, emotional performances that is as warm as it is cold and she proves that even at fifty years old she is hotter than 90% of us can ever hope to be. Her abs alone deserve an award for their contribution to the film.

Destiny, played by Constance Wu, is the narrator and, towards the end of the story, an increasingly important decision maker in the scam that the two women run together. Wu does a great job showing Destiny’s development as a person. She goes from shy to sexy, uncertain to boss bitch, young hustler to young mother. Wu’s creates a vibrant, complex character whose internal battles play right across her face. The movie is truly worth watching for this performance alone.

I initially described this movie as a buddy comedy, but that description deserves the giant caveat that Hustlers is a genre busting film. Hustlers is partially a true story and there are aspects to that true story that are dark. Destiny is sexually assaulted at one point, which, after reading some articles about the actual events, seems like it was a more common experience at her club than was reflected in the film. Hustlers features all kinds of abusers and users: sometimes they are the women who ran the scam, but more often it is the men they are taking advantage of. Buddy comedy or no, this film shows off the glamor, the monotony, and the underbelly of strip clubs.

L-R: Lili Reinhart, JLo, Keke Palmer, Constance Wu

Hustlers is full of funny moments and outright jokes that kept me and my movie buddy laughing for most of the film. Despite its thematic darkness and the fact that neither of us has any desire to commit felonies or take up exotic dancing, we both laughed and cried our way through the movie and, at the end, were both aspiring to create a friendship like Destiny’s and Ramona’s.

Hustlers is a sexy movie with a wicked sense of humor, a lot of heart, and a weirdly uplifting message of women helping women. It’s a beautiful portrait of the highs and lows of friendship set against a backdrop of crime that is pretty palatable considering that most of their victims were insanely rich. Check it out while it’s still in theaters. Do it for the abs. Your TV won’t do Jennifer Lopez justice.


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

FlixChatter Review: OFFICIAL SECRETS (2019)

I’m glad I got to see this film on National Whistleblower Day last July. It was a very early screening to coincide with that day, which I think is appropriate as many whistleblowers are unsung heroes in my opinion, and they risked a lot to do what they do.

As did Katharine Gun, a British translator working for GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) in which this film is about. The film’s storyline is based on the book The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion (a mouthful and very descriptive title!) In 2003, she leaked a secret memo to the press about an illegal NSA spy operation designed to push the UN Security Council into sanctioning the invasion of Iraq. Some of the illegal activities involve US National Security Agency eavesdropping on diplomats from countries (the ‘swing nations’ as it were) tasked with passing a crucial UN resolution in favor of the invasion.

The film begins with Katharine leading an ordinary day, cuddling romantically with her husband in bed, watching TV, etc. Filmmaker Gavin Hood (who directed Eye in the Sky, an effective drone warfare thriller) made a point that Katharine vehemently opposed the Iraq invasion—she commented about Tony Blair while watching him on TV. As you recall, he was deeply unpopular when he backed George W. Bush’s foreign policy at the time. Then came the day Katharine stumbled upon that secret memo, and the film shows how she was outraged by that email. There is quite a bit of political jargon and national security info that get over my head a little, but most of the film focuses on Katharine’s journey… how she wrestles with the idea of leaking the confidential memo, thus breaking the Official Secrets Act 1989.

This film could easily be one of those humdrum BOATS (based on a true story) film, but I’m glad to say it’s pretty intriguing. There are some slow parts, and some scenes were overly dramatized, but overall I was invested in Katharine’s story. She sees the Iraq invasion as illegal, and she’s a headstrong woman that she maintains her ground, and her innocence throughout the whole ordeal. She acted to prevent imminent loss of life in a war that she deemed unlawful. There are a few suspenseful scenes, notably the time Katharine was interrogated when GCHQ got wind of the ‘leaked memo’ and another one involving her husband Yasar (Adam Bakri) who’s from Turkey. The fact that he’s an immigrant is being exploited by the UK authorities to get Katharine to yield. I have to admit that deportation scene is highly resonant to what’s going today and it sends a chill to my heart.

The film boasts a terrific British cast. I thought Keira Knightley, who looks nothing like the blond Katharine (they didn’t even make Keira’s hair lighter in the film) delivers a pretty convincing and affecting portrayal. It’s perhaps a less flashy role, yet one of her most nuanced performances I’ve seen so far. It’s quite a nice break to see her being rather deglamorized here. As for the all-star supporting cast, there are Ralph Fiennes as Katharine’s human-rights attorney, Matthew Goode (wish there were more scenes of him) and Matt Smith as journalists for The Observer, and Rhys Ifans as another British journalist. Though they each play a small role, I think they all provide a memorable turn as the people Katharine came in contact with. I find the whole correspondents between the supporting cast quite entertaining, perhaps because I have such a penchant for these fine British thespians!

Some say the Katharine Gun story as a morality tale of the 21st century, as her legal battle ends up exposing the highest level of government in both UK and US. Katharine was asked if she was ‘anti-war’ and she replied ‘no.’ She said some wars serve a purpose, and in hindsight, we know that the Iraq invasion shouldn’t have taken place. I for one am not a political person nor am I into overly political movies that are one-sided, but that’s not what Official Secrets is about. This thought-provoking film certainly made me ponder what I would do if I were in Katharine’s shoes, would I dare to stand up for what I believe in when it really mattered, risking everything I hold dear when the easiest to do would just to keep quiet.

I’m glad I saw this film as I didn’t really remember the actual events. As far as films about whistleblower goes, this one isn’t quite as gripping as say, The Insider (one of my fave from Michael Mann boasting an Oscar-worthy turn from Russell Crowe). Nonetheless it’s still a pretty solid drama in which the cast made it well worth a watch. I appreciate that they show the real Katharine Gun at the end of the film. I know people don’t usually go to the movies to see smaller dramas like this one, but I highly recommend it and I think you’d be pleasantly surprised.


Have you seen OFFICIAL SECRETS? I’d love to hear what you think!

…british

The FlixList: Five BEST and WORST Stephen King’s film adaptations

With second part of Stephen King’s IT (It Chapter Two – check out our review) just hit theaters this past weekend and DOCTOR SLEEP later in November, I thought I should list my 5 best and worst films based on his novels. Now, I haven’t seen all of the films that were based on his books, so I don’t have any opinion on these films: CAT’S EYE, THE NIGHT FLIER, RIDING THE BULLET, 1408, DOLAN’S CADILLAC & CELL. The list contains ONLY films that were based on his novels and short stories, I’m not listing the TV movies or shows that were also based on his books.

Here are my top 5 BEST films based on King’s work:

  1. MISERY (1990)
    A perfect casting of the main leads, Kathy Bates was so frightening as the obsessed fan of James Cann’s Paul Sheldon. This is one of the few films that I thought was better than the book. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the book was excellent, but I did not want to see some of the things that King wrote on the pages appear on the screen, anyone who read book knows what I’m talking about. I’m also glad they changed the infamous leg scene in the film, in the book it’s much worse than what was filmed.
  2. THE GREEN MILE (1999)
    One of the few films that actually made me cry when I first saw it. The late Michael Clarke Duncan was perfectly cast as the gentle giant John Coffey, the wrongly accused killer. Of course, Tom Hanks was perfect as Paul Edgecomb and Sam Rockwell was stellar as Wild Bill Howell. Not as good as the novel but one of the best films of 1999.

  3. THE DEAD ZONE (1983)
    I remember reading this book when I was in 8
    th or 9th grade, it took me a while to finish but I loved it. I was hesitant to watch the film version but I’m glad I did. Great performances by Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen. I think the film version was a pretty faithful adaptation.

  4. THE MIST (2007)
    Minus the terrible visual effects, this was a great film about what fear can do to everyday people. I thought Marcia Gay Harden should’ve received Oscar nomination for her role as Mrs. Carmody, one of the best villain roles I’ve ever seen. I think the film’s more well known for its bleak ending. The film deserves to be talked about more as one of King’s best adaptations.

  5. THE SHINING (1980)
    The film wasn’t a faithful adaptation of the source novel but it’s a film by Stanley Kubrick, so you know he’s going to do it his way. According to King, Kubrick would constantly call him late at night to go over the script during the shoot, ironically when the film was released, King has stated that he didn’t like it. Apparently, Kubrick wanted to make a film that would be appealing to general audiences and he needed a box office hit since many of his films weren’t making any money. The film did okay box office wise but it’s now considered one of the best horror films ever made.

Now, the top 5 WORST films based on King’s work:

  1. THE DARK TOWER (2017)
    Ron Howard spent many years trying to get this film to the big screen but studio executives at Universal Studios were nervous about spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a film that has mixed genres of western, sci-fi, horror and action/adventure. The rights went to Sony and they decided to give writer/director Nikolaj Arcel a chance to adapt this story based on King’s opus novels to the big screen and the results was disastrous.
    Like many people, I skipped seeing it at a theater but decided to rent it. I was pretty pissed when I finally saw it, I’ve been waiting to see The Dark Tower hitting the big screen for so long and what I saw was something that looked like it’s made by an amateur filmmaker. I wasn’t fan of the cast either, I think Idris Elba is a great actor but he’s not the right choice to play Roland. Mathew McConaughey as Roland’s nemesis Walter aka The Man in Black was a joke. Everything about this film was a disaster and it’s one of the worst films of the decade in my opinion. Now that Amazon has the rights to the novels, hopefully they can finally do a faithful adaptation.

  2. THE RUNNING MAN (1987)

    Besides the title and concept, the film has little to do with King’s novel. If you look as just another silly Arnold’s action film in the 80s, it’s a decent film. But it’s based on one of my favorite King’s novels and I thought it’s pretty bad. With our current political climate, I think this film deserves a remake that stays true to the book. I would love it if a filmmaker like Chris Nolan or Ridley Scott adapts it for the big screen.

  3. CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1987)
    I remember I was pretty freaked out when I read this short story and was excited to see the film version. But the film was so boring and not scary at all. It’s one of the few films based on King’s story that I don’t remember much about.

  4. MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE (1986)
    The only film that Stephen King himself directed (he also wrote the screenplay) based on his own story and it’s pretty terrible. According to King himself, he’s so high on cocaine while making this film that he didn’t know what he’s doing and it shows on the screen. The film was pretty incoherent, and the cast looked like they had no idea what they were supposed to do.

  5. NEEDFUL THINGS (1993)
    Not one of my favorites of King’s novels but it’s still a good read. I thought it could never translate well into film and I was right. Despite its excellent castings of Max Von Sydow, Ed Harris, Bonnie Bedelia and JT Walsh, the film has nothing going on for it. The long runtime didn’t help either, I was so bored when I rented it on home video and almost turned it off halfway through.

So those are my 5 best and worst films based on King’s novels. I know I left out some of the more popular films like CARRIE, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, CUJO, FIRESTARTER and CREEPSHOW. I liked those films, but I didn’t think they were the best or worst. 


TedS_post


How about you? Feel free to list your top films based on King’s novels.

FlixChatter Review – IT Chapter Two (2019)

Directed by: Andy Muschietti
Written by: Gary Dauberman

It Chapter 2 takes place 27 years after the first film. When children again start mysteriously dying in Derry, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) calls his childhood friends (James McAvoy as Bill Denbrough, Jessica Chastain as Beverly Marsh, Bill Hader as Richie Tozier, Jay Ryan as Ben Hanscom, James Ransone as Eddie Kaspbrak, and Andy Bean as Stanley Uris), to return to their hometown and finally defeat the fear-hungry entity that terrorized them in the form of Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgard) all those years ago.

The highlight of this movie is absolutely its stellar cast. Everyone has excellent chemistry and genuinely feel like lifelong friends, especially Bill Hader and James Ransone. The actors clearly studied their younger counterparts thoroughly, because past just looking similar to them, their mannerisms mirror those of their younger counterparts incredibly well; my cousin pointed out that James McAvoy is slightly duck-footed when he walks, the same way young Bill (Jaeden Martell) is. All of the actors give impressive performances, but Bill Hader is the stand-out; while he’s as hilarious in this movie as anyone who has seen him on SNL would expect, he also gives an absolutely heartbreaking performance toward the end.

(L-R) Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Hader, James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan

My main complaint with this movie has to do with its length. It’s nearly three hours long, and while the first one was pretty long too-about two and a half hours-this one felt much more padded. There were several flashbacks to the kids having additional encounters with It, and while the scenes were mostly well-done, and it was nice having more screen time with the talented young actors, it felt like the filmmakers were just trying to squeeze in more scares. This is especially frustrating when the time focused on unnecessary flashbacks could have been used to flesh out parts that were mostly glazed over-Bill’s relationship with his actor wife Audra (Jess Weixler), Bev’s struggles with her abusive husband Tom (Will Beinbrink), and pretty much all of Mike’s background.

One of my main problems with the first movie was how little development they gave to Mike, and I had hoped that would change in the sequel, since he’s the only member of the friend group who stayed in Derry and is responsible for bringing them back, but he’s once again sidelined; I’m pretty sure we go nearly an hour without seeing him onscreen after the group’s reunion. Even his big scene from the book with former school bully/current psychiatric hospital escapee Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) is cut very short.

That last bit brings me to my other big complaint about the movie: there are several parts played for laughs that shouldn’t have been, especially most of the scenes with Bowers. His brief attack on Mike is handled more seriously, but the majority of his scenes, as bloody as they are, have this weird comedic tone that doesn’t mesh with this character that has been established as a genuinely intimidating figure. It’s not like this movie lacks for comedy-as scary as it is, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments-so I’m not sure why the filmmakers felt the need to inject humor into non-humorous situations.

While I have my issues with trying to pack in extra scares in this movie, I did still enjoy them. There are plenty of slow burning, suspenseful scenes, jump-out-of-your-seat moments, and creative and unsettling imagery. The famous fortune cookie scene is frenetic and terrifying, Bev’s unnerving encounter with the strange old woman (Joan Gregson) in her old apartment is exquisitely tense, and there’s a moment toward the end involving young Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff) that really made me shudder.

Despite my complaints, I still really enjoyed It Chapter 2. It’s scary, funny, heartfelt, and well-acted. While I think the first movie is a little better (or at least more succinct), the second movie is a satisfying follow-up and a wonderful conclusion to a great horror story.

laura_review


Have you seen IT Chapter Two? Let us know what you think!

FlixChatter Review: The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

The Peanut Butter Falcon is a fun revisitation of the classic American adventure story. It follows two unlikely companions, Zak and Tyler, who are thrown together by a mutual need to get out of town. Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a young man with downs syndrome who is running away from his care home, pursued by the well-meaning Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) is a fisherman who has made the wrong people angry. After a couple narrow escapes both Zak and Tyler realize that they need each other; Zak as a stand-in for Tyler’s brother; and Tyler as one of the few people who sees and treats Zak as a full human being.

Unfortunately, much of the writing in Peanut Butter Falcon is clunky. The introductory scenes in the care home and the fishing yard are stilted:  those scenes wind up feeling undirected, unedited, and rushed. In one scene, Eleanor’s boss urgently calls her into his office, but when she gets there, she, along with the audience, is forced to sit through the tail end of a pointless phone call. Tyler’s rivals talk in an expository way that makes them feel more like super villains than fishermen. They are caricatures of something that does not quite exist:  a confusing mash-up of a bad cliché of an inner-city gang member and an equally bad cliché of a blue-collar worker.

I would have liked more from Dakota Johnson, but her role was more of an outline than a character. She was effortlessly swept off her feet by Tyler, despite the characters seeming incompatible. Tyler mostly made judgmental assumptions about her rather than asking her questions about herself and although we definitely see her come to respect the way Tyler treats Zak, there is never a shift in how Tyler treats Eleanor. Regardless, Johnson played the character with heart and made Eleanor more than she would have been in lesser hands.

Maybe the most egregious writing foul in Peanut Butter Falcon, though, is that one of the movie’s two (count em two) speaking black characters was a “magical negro”. This is a bad move in and of itself, but is made worse because the filmmakers are familiar with the trope. In an interview with City Weekly Mike Shwartz (who wrote and directed alongside Tyler Nilson) said that they wanted to make sure that Zak never came across as a “magical disability person”, directly referencing the magical negro trope. (The film succeeds in this pursuit. Zak’s character has goals, a fun personality, strong opinions, etc.) Those same filmmakers being lazy enough to include a blind black man who lives in the woods and proselytizes to anyone who comes to his door is almost unfathomable when they apparently know that the negro trope exists is incredibly problematic.

So, the positives.

As mentioned above, The Peanut Butter Falcon is a movie that aims to empower people with downs syndrome and it does that well. Not only is Zak a nuanced, interesting character with a big personality, he is also played by a person with downs syndrome. Gottsagen is a great actor and his performance, especially in scenes with Tyler, are really well executed.  We are overdue for casting choices like this one.

Also, the movie did not shy away from the sometimes harsh reality of what life with downs syndrome can be like. Zak is underestimated, bullied, and called names often and although those things hurt his feelings, he remains a resilient man with dreams to fulfill. He is a fully fleshed character from the beginning and over the course of his journey he continues to grow as a person. 

The chemistry between LaBeouf and Gottsagen cannot be overstated. The two share several intimate moments: dancing around a campfire, walking through cornfields, and (my personal favorite) sitting on the edge of their raft gently slapping each other’s faces. The bond they create rests somewhere between brotherhood and friendship and is expressed masterfully by both actors.

The movie is a visual love-letter to the American south. Nigel Bluck creates a scenic backdrop to the story, incorporating drone shots and wide-angles that highlight that beauty of the natural landscape in breathtaking moments that never detract from the story.

Oh, and Thomas Haden Church has a great little cameo as retired wrestler “Salt Water Redneck”.

Overall, this movie has its flaws: the relationship between Zak and Tyler is obviously the element that the filmmakers put the most energy into (and the rest of the movie suffers for that emphasis, even if it is the crux of the story), but the movie is worth a watch for that relationship and for its ultimately empowering story.


Have you seen The Peanut Butter Falcon? Well, what did you think?