FlixChatter Review: ARRIVAL (2016)

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Sci-fi films involving aliens coming to earth is a dime a dozen. So it’s so refreshing to see a film that treads a familiar ground, yet still manages to be original and truly thought-provoking. Based on the short story Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, the premise of ARRIVAL is deceptively simple. One day, twelve alien ships land all over earth, one of them in is Montana, USA. Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) was teaching at her college when the world came to a standstill watching the breaking news reporting the aliens arrival. Soon Louise is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

The linguistic aspects is something I haven’t seen before in a sci-fi movie, or not one I remember well anyway. Apparently director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer created a fully functioning, visual, alien language, which is utterly fascinating to see on film. It looks like a circular thing made out of black ink called the logograms. The alien creatures (which they dubbed ‘heptapods’) have a squid-like form with tentacles that they use to ‘write’ these logograms onto a frosty glass wall that separate them from the humans when they visit their spaceship. There’s quite a suspense the first time we saw these heptapods, but as the film progresses, it’s apparent that this film is so much more than an alien movie or stories about aliens. With any great science-fiction, the best ones are those that remind us of our humanity, and that is the case with Arrival.

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The story also deals with the notion of time, which I can’t quite begin to explain. I have to admit it took me a while to grasp just what is going on, as Louise’s time decoding the alien language is interspersed with remembrance of Louise’s daughter. To say more about this might get into spoiler territory, but let’s just say that the mother/daughter story is an emotional one. By the end of the film, we’re not asking so much about how and why the aliens got to earth, but it makes us ponder about love, loss, and the ‘choices’ that we make in life.

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Amy Adams’ quiet yet affecting performance is superb here, she is truly the heart and soul of the film. I have seen quite a few of her stellar work and this could be her best performance yet. Perhaps 2017 would be the year the 5-time Academy Award nominee is finally a ‘bride’ instead of the the ‘bridesmaids’ at the Oscar. Jeremy Renner gives a strong supporting performance here as the mathematician partner of Louise, he has a pretty effortless chemistry with Adams and was quite the comic relief in some scenes. I thought the Abbott and Costello reference was quite a hoot. Unfortunately Forest Whitaker isn’t given that much to do in this film, neither is Michael Stuhlbarg.

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I have to say that people who have little patience for slow-paced films could be potentially frustrating. In fact, the guy next to me actually dozed off and snored loudly after about a half hour, it’s too bad as he missed out on the best parts of the film. For me, it’s such a treat to see a visceral and emotionally-complex film, especially with a female protagonist at the center, so I was engrossed from start to finish. The eerie music by Jóhann Jóhannsson adds a creepy and mysterious feel to the film, it’s deliberately somber yet enigmatic. I still prefer Jóhannsson’s work in Sicario but this one is certainly excellent in its own right.

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Québec-based filmmaker Denis Villeneuve is one of the few emerging directors (like Jeff Nichols, Taika Waititi) whose work have continued to impress me. I love his emphasis on character development instead of wham-bam action. The use of special effects here is utterly fascinating, especially in the design of the alien spaceships and the otherwordly logograms language and how they’re transmitted. I’m now even more psyched about Blade Runner 2 just on account of having Villeneuve at the helm.

Arrival is one of those films that will stay with you long after the end credits, and that’s always a good sign. It certainly has a haunting quality that is always a positive thing in my book. Whether or not this will be a sci-fi classic remains to be seen, but without a doubt this is one of the best films of the year.

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What are your thoughts on ARRIVAL?

FlixChatter Review: Moonlight (2016)

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It’s been nearly a month since I saw Moonlight, yet I still constantly think about it. I had heard the buzz coming from Sundance and TIFF prior to its regional premiere at TCFF, and the premise of a coming-of-age story spanning three time periods intrigues me. The film is written and directed by Barry Jenkins, adapted from Tarell McCraney‘s unproduced play titled In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue.

In terms of story-telling, Moonlight is certainly one of the most unique as well as challenging. Some might think it’s similar to Richard Linklater Boyhood (though I haven’t seen it yet) with the protagonist played by two actors. In Moonlight, the life of black-American Chiron is portrayed by three actors, from young adolescence (Alex R. Hibbert), mid-teen (Ashton Sanders) and young adult (Trevante Rhodes). The casting is impressive as all three actors, despite not looking that much alike, somehow shares a certain quiet grace about them and ability to conveys much with so little.

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As a young boy, Chiron (called Little) lives in Miami with his single, drug-addicted mother Paula (an intense Naomie Harris), while being bullied at school and struggling with his sexual identity. It’s whilst he’s being chased by a group of kids that he meets a crack dealer Juan (Mahershala Ali) who takes him to his girlfriend Teresa’s (Janelle Monáe) house and gives him food. I love the scenes between Little and Juan, teaching Chiron how to swim, in the water as well as in the rough waters called life.

“…you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.”

It’s also the first time the issue of sexuality is explored, with Little asking Juan ‘what’s a faggot?’ and Juan’s answer certainly one that’d leave a mark in the young boy’s life. Juan is definitely not the typical drug dealer, or who we often think of someone in that profession. But then again, this film never resorts to oversimplification.

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The transition between the three different periods in Chiron’s life is handled well, it never feels abrupt or jarring. As with many young boys in their teens, this time period is crucial in shaping their lives. The scrawny teen is still bullied at school, Chiron’s only friend is his Cuban-American friend Kevin (André Holland). I honestly have never seen Black sexuality/masculinity depicted in this way and it struck me just how beautiful and nuanced the story was. Forgoing explicit scenes, Jenkins’s way of depicting the sexually-charged scenes is far from gratuitous. In fact, it’s one of the most heart-wrenching scenes that really took my breath away.

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In his adult life, Chiron now goes by the name “Black,” a nickname given by Kevin as a teen. He’s now a tough, muscular young man who now treads the same life as his childhood hero Juan, right down to the kind of car he drives. There’s an emotional exchange between him and his mother, but nothing quite as the reunion between him and Kevin. I won’t spoil it for you but that ending really hits me hard emotionally.

On top of the three actors portraying Chiron, the supporting cast is solid. Harris deglamorized to play the role of Chiron’s junkie mother, amazing that she filmed her role in between her busy press tour schedule for Spectre, a film that couldn’t be more different from this one. I love Monáe as the sympathetic mother figure to Chiron, and Holland did an affecting turn as the adult Kevin. But I’m most impressed with Mahershala Ali, I hope to see more of him in prominent roles, he’s got the screen presence and confidence of Denzel Washington. Moonlight deservedly earned the Robert Altman Award at this year’s Independent Spirit Awards that honor the entire ensemble cast.


Few films hit me as hard as Moonlight did. I was so emotionally-invested in Chiron and I often have tears in my eyes when I think about his arduous life journey. The films also deftly broke stereotypes, challenging our perceptions of what we think of masculinity, especially amongst the Black community. I was also in awe by the poignant, elegant and graceful storytelling style of a subject matter rarely depicted on screen. It won’t be a hyperbole that Barry Jenkins has created a masterpiece in his sophomore effort. I’m impressed that It made me curious to check out his debut, Medicine for Melancholy. I will be really ticked off if this film or Barry Jenkins isn’t nominated for Oscar this year. I’m so glad to have seen this in the big screen. I have to mention the music by Nicholas Britell as well as cinematography by James Laxton, excellent on both fronts that adds much to this beautifully-crafted film. I rarely give a full score but this film absolutely deserves it.

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Have you seen MOONLIGHT? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this film!

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Guest Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016)

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It’s going to be hard for me not to turn this into a fifty-page essay, because I am an enormous Harry Potter fan. I have been since I was ten years old. I’ve re-read all the books more times than I can remember, I wrote so much embarrassingly bad fan-fiction as a preteen, and I’ve attended multiple book and movie midnight releases in costume (more recently than I’d care to admit). Like every other Harry Potter fan in the world, I was psyched to hear about the Fantastic Beasts films, but, like many other fans, I was also nervous.

I’ve already been disappointed in new Harry Potter-related media released this year (damn you, Cursed Child), and a lot of the details J.K. Rowling has released about the Fantastic Beasts movie and the Wizarding culture in America has been even less promising (such as Muggles being called “No-Maj”). My expectation was that the writing would fall flat, but the visuals would be beautiful. My expectations were mostly met.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, named for the fictional textbook from the Harry Potter series, follows its author, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), on his adventure through 1926 New York City where, through a series of mishaps, he loses his case full of magical creatures. Several of the creatures get loose, and it’s up to Newt, ex-employee of the Magical Congress of the USA Tina (Katherine Waterston), her sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), and No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) to retrieve them before the Wizarding World is exposed.

I think J.K. Rowling is a much better novelist than a screenwriter. She’s not used to writing within the time constraints of a movie, which meant this one was messy, disorganized, and lacked exposition in areas where it was sorely needed. The biggest example of this comes toward the end, in the most infuriatingly stupid deus ex machina I have seen in a long time. I won’t go into detail to avoid spoilers, but trust me, you’ll know it when you see it. It was exciting to see the Wizarding World in a different location and time period, but it was a shaky introduction. It was recently announced that the film series was expanded from a trilogy into a five-part series, so hopefully the next four movies will be paced better now that Rowling has more time to work with.

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Queenie and Tina

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Dan Fogler as Jacob

That said, there is still so much about this movie that I loved. The four main characters are incredibly well-written; they’re all likeable and have unique personalities that don’t just feel like movie stereotypes. The actors do an amazing job bringing the characters to life, especially lead Eddie Redmayne; his shy, awkward, quirky personality was delightful. My one critique is that his tendency to mumble his lines made it hard to understand what he was saying. Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski, the sole No-Maj pulled into the magical adventure, is excellent as well. He could have easily fallen into the overused role of a slapstick comedic sidekick, but he brought so much heart to the character.


The most memorable part of this movie, though, was the design of titular fantastic beasts. The visuals in this movie are phenomenal. The creatures range from being so adorable it hurts my heart, to breathtakingly majestic. They’re also surprisingly faithful to the descriptions in the original book; the designers were clearly familiar with the source material, and as a die-hard fan, I appreciated the attention to detail.

While there were obvious flaws in this movie, I still really enjoyed it, both as a Harry Potter fan and as a moviegoer. I would absolutely watch it again, and I’m eager to see how the next four go.


laurasLaura Schaubschlager is a Winona State University graduate with a B.A. in English, which is seldom put to use in my health insurance career (outside of cringing at the grammatical errors my superiors make in their emails). I’m an avid horror fan (movies, novels, video games- anything that makes me hesitate when I go to turn off the light at night), and I’m always looking for writing opportunities, although my current portfolio is made up of partially-completed short stories and an occasionally-updated blog: schaublahblah.wordpress.com.


Have you seen ‘Fantastic Beasts’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Doctor Strange (2016)

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I have to admit I wasn’t really anticipating this movie at all. I wasn’t familiar with this character at all and honestly, I have grown a bit tired of seeing Benedict Cumberbatch, though I did like him before he was super famous from playing Sherlock. Now it’s no fault of his but I tend to lose interest fast when an actor becomes overexposed.

In any case, I still went into the screening expecting to be entertained. To a degree, Doctor Strange was a pretty fun movie with some humorous moments. Yet I feel that it treads such familiar grounds. It’s basically similar to Iron Man‘s origin story, but with magic thrown in. We also got a hero who started out as a rich, arrogant genius who suffered a major accident. They also extend their hand just so to exert their power. Perhaps because Iron Man was still a bit of a novelty when it came out 8 years ago in 2008, it made a lot more impact to me and Robert Downey Jr’s performance was quite indelible.

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Stephen Strange’s journey all the way to the Himalayas also reminds me of Batman Begins. But instead of an East-Asian character as The Ancient One, Strange’s spiritual mentor is now a bald woman of Celtic origin with posh British accent (Tilda Swinton). To be honest, all the quantum physics and mysticism concept are lost on me. It was some gobbledygook that never became involving enough to me, though I did get a kick out of the rather comedic Cloak of Levitation. I think my favorite part in the entire movie is when the cloak attaches itself to Strange as he walks on, it was a moment he sort of becomes a superhero.

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Just like the lead, the supporting cast are full of massively accomplished actors. Fellow Oscar-nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor and British actor Benedict Wong are both in the camp of the Ancient One who became Strange’s allies. It’s rare to see an actor named Benedict to begin with, let alone having TWO of them in the same movie! I love the interactions between the two Benedicts, though the Beyonce/Adele joke seems rather out of place in this universe. There’s also the talented Mads Mikkelsen, once again sporting weird eye makeup as a villain, but he’s nowhere near as menacing nor effective as he did in Casino Royale. There is very little character development in this movie and none of the relationships elicit any kind of emotion, especially the one between him and fellow surgeon Christine (a wasted Rachel McAdams). That said, Cumberbatch himself acquits himself well in the role. He certainly has that ‘cocky genius’ thing down pat, though I wouldn’t call Doctor Strange my fave Marvel superhero by a long stretch.

As for the visual effects. I think it’s to be expected that a $165 mil movie would deliver something great to look at. The space visuals is reminiscent of Guardians of the Galaxy, whilst the whole folding architecture thing is slightly more robust than what we’ve seen in Inception. The movie has a a Groundhog day-style finale with a character encountering death over and over again, going against an entirely CG character, a nemesis called Dormammu that’s apparently also voiced by Cumberbatch. It was kind of a ho-hum ending to me, it was neither intriguing nor emotional in the slightest. The plot seems predictable and seems rather ‘convenient,’ and not once do I feel that the hero was in any great danger.

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I generally like Marvel movies, even those I was initially skeptical about like Thor. But overall I was underwhelmed by Doctor Strange. I think it could’ve been a much better film, or at least just a tad more thought-provoking instead of just mildly entertaining. The script (partly written by director Scott Derrickson) just wasn’t provocative, thought provoking nor memorable. I’m feeling generous in rating this one because I do like the cast, though the movie probably more of a 2.5/5 for me. I think it’s one of the weakest MCU movies so far, and I’m honestly flabbergasted by the high Rotten Tomatoes rating! (But then again I think their algorithm is botched. I mean the same exact rating from two reviewers can be fresh or rotten, huh??) In any case, there’s a post-credit scene but by then I have lost interest in this inevitable franchise entirely.

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So, what are your thoughts on ‘Doctor Strange’?

Week In Review: Hunt For the Wilderpeople + Loving + The Little Prince

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How’s your weekend everyone? It’s been a while since I did a roundup post, but I figure it’s a good way for me to ease my way into blogging again. It’s been a particularly gratifying week as I saw two of my highly-anticipated films, Loving and Hunt For the Wilderpeople. As Winter has officially arrived, we pretty much hibernated this weekend so my hubby and I saw The Little Prince on Netflix Saturday night.

Below is my mini reviews of two of the films I saw this past week, plus quick thoughts on the New Zealander adventure comedy…

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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I became a huge fan of Taika Waititi‘s work since the hilarious vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows. Well, he’s come up with yet another riotously-funny movie that could practically double as a travel video for New Zealand!

I will do a full review of this later in December, but right now all I can say is… RUN, don’t walk to rent this movie!! I’m gutted that I missed this on the big screen, not sure that it even had a theatrical release here in MN. In any case, I enjoyed the heck out of this one. LOVE the unlikely duo of veteran actor Sam Neill with newcomer Julian Dennison, a riotous 14-year-old NZ child actor with an amazing comic timing and screen presence. He’s inspired me to do a top 10 list of great 2016 performances by kid actors, so stay tuned for that!


Loving

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Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married.

This film couldn’t have come at a better time, as America is surely in tumultuous times right now. It seems appalling that interracial marriage was still illegal in some states fifty some years ago, but have we really come that far since? The latest film from Jeff Nichols is beautifully-told, graceful and affecting as the filmmaker focused on the couple themselves instead of making a political statement. Yes of course the film has a major political and social implication, as the Supreme Court decision on Loving v. Virginia put an end to all miscegenation laws in 1967. But at the end of the day, the story is about two human beings who loved each other and wanted to raise a family together.

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Both Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton portrayed Mildred and Richard with such quiet grace and sincerity. It’s an understated performance that speaks volumes and conveys the tension as well as poignancy of what they went through. For someone withe the name Loving, Richard surely lives up to that and it’s truly a beautiful marriage built on not just love, but mutual respect. Michael Shannon has a small–but–memorable cameo as a LIFE magazine photographer who took the iconic shots of the couple as they simply hang out in their home, watching tv, playing with their kids, etc. There’s also Marton Csokas as the ‘villain’ of the story, the Virginia sheriff who arrested them.

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The script, direction and performance all work beautifully to bring the Lovings’ story to life. The cinematography and music are beautiful and evocative, it works in transporting us to a certain period of Americana. But it’s the journey of the Lovings that I shall never forget. By making the film about the couple, forgoing court drama theatrics, Nichols made a deeply moving film that connected with me in a refreshingly real way.

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The Little Prince (2015)

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A little girl lives in a very grown-up world with her mother, who tries to prepare her for it. Her neighbor, the Aviator, introduces the girl to an extraordinary world where anything is possible, the world of the Little Prince.

Truth be told, I’m not that familiar with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, despite it being the fourth most translated book in the world. This is the first animated feature film adaptation of the book, directed by Mark Osborne (Kung Fu Panda), boasting a terrific cast that includes Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Ricky Gervais, etc.

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I have a penchant for these kinds of imaginative stories, one that blends in reality and fantasy set in striking visuals. The little girl’s relationship with her overly-ambitious mother is an interesting commentary about the overly-structured life of an adult vs the wide-eyed openness of a child exploring the world. I have to admit it took me a while to get into this one at first, even after the girl (Mackenzie Foy, who was in Interstellar) meets the narrator, an elderly man (Jeff Bridges) who told her the tale about the aviator and the little prince. I’m often lost in the beauty of the visuals, especially the stop-motion scenes in the desert created using paper. It’s absolutely gorgeous with a dreamy quality, but yet for some reason I couldn’t connect to the story nor the characters as much as I wanted to. I wonder if at times there’s a case of ‘lost in translation’ here from the original story.

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There are philosophical quotes that resonated with me however, such as “One sees clearly only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eye.” I also enjoyed the music by Hans Zimmer and Richard Harvey, which nicely complements the ethereal, watercolor look of the film. It certainly is worth a watch, for sure it’s a technical/visual marvel, even if the film overall isn’t as breathtaking as I had hoped.

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More reviews coming your way…

I’ve written up my full review of Doctor Strange coming later this week. My hubby and I saw Arrival last weekend, right after we’re back from our Zion/Vegas trip, which was truly one of the best, most affecting sci-fi film I’ve seen in a good while.  I plan on writing my review of Arrival and Moonlight (one of the two October Movies of the Month!) later this week. I’ll be seeing the new Brad Pitt/Marion Cotillard spy drama Allied tonight, and if the snow storm doesn’t wreck havoc on traffic, hopefully I’ll be seeing Hidden Figures tomorrow night! Oh and my new blog contributor Laura S. also gave me a review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, so stay tuned for a slew of new reviews in the next few weeks!

#SlowlyGettingMyBloggingMojoBack😉


So did you see anything good this weekend? If you’ve seen any of these movies, I’m curious to hear what YOU think. 

Guest Review: Bleed For This (2016)

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I was a little nervous to write this review. My first two posts for FlixChatter (Ouija and The Eyes Of My Mother) were for horror movies-a genre I enjoy and feel comfortable writing about- so being assigned a movie outside of my wheelhouse was a little daunting, especially considering this one is a boxing movie. I am not remotely a sports person. When I voiced my concerns to my sister, she pointed out that regardless of the subject, a good movie should make me empathize with the main character. I should be able to relate to their struggle and their eagerness to achieve their goals. Was I able to do that in Bleed for This? No. Not really. And for a movie like this, that is really a problem.

Bleed for This tells the true story of Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller), a world champion boxer who suffers a near-fatal car crash, breaking his neck and being told he may never walk again, let alone fight. Despite this major injury, concern from his parents (Katey Sagal and Ciaran Hinds), and lack of support from his manager (Ted Levine), he works relentlessly to not only heal, but return to his former strength and fight again.

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A story like this should be tense and emotional, but it was surprisingly underwhelming. This mostly has to do with poor pacing. A substantial amount of the first half of the movie was dedicated to introducing Vinny and establishing his identity as a boxer, but the events following his car crash-specifically, his journey to recovery- were rushed, showing very little of his physical challenges or his emotional turmoil over potentially never boxing again. We see him struggle to lift a barbell in his parents’ basement which created a moment of suspense (would he be able to even move it? Would he injure himself further?), but the subsequent training montage with trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) is brief and shows virtually no extreme effort, so when he finally enters the ring again, it doesn’t feel like as enormous of an achievement as it should.

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Vinny’s feelings about his boxing career possibly ending could have been addressed better as well. Before the accident, his manager suggests he consider retiring, infuriating Vinny; he can’t imagine ever not being a boxer, but when he’s presented with that very real possibility after the car crash, we don’t really see him explore his feelings about it, which seems strange after making such a big deal about his commitment to boxing in the first act.

That’s not to say the movie didn’t have its good points. It had a strong cast, and the chemistry between Teller and Eckhart was especially impressive. There were a few moments of genuine tension toward the end of the film- but not enough to save it from being boring overall.

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I’m sure the real Vinny Pazienza’s recovery was incredibly difficult. I’m sure the training was exhausting and painful and required unbelievable self-discipline, and the idea that he might not reach his goal was probably terrifying. But if none of that is conveyed, what’s the point of making a movie about it at all?


laurasLaura Schaubschlager is a Winona State University graduate with a B.A. in English, which is seldom put to use in my health insurance career (outside of cringing at the grammatical errors my superiors make in their emails). I’m an avid horror fan (movies, novels, video games- anything that makes me hesitate when I go to turn off the light at night), and I’m always looking for writing opportunities, although my current portfolio is made up of partially-completed short stories and an occasionally-updated blog: schaublahblah.wordpress.com.


Have you seen ‘Bleed For This’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

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It’s been ten years since Mel Gibson‘s last directed a film; the violent adventure Apocalypto was a mild success for the controversial actor and director. Many thought that film would be a comeback for Gibson, but then his personal life took another controversial hit and he’s been out of the limelight for a few years. He’s now back with another violent film that’s based on a real life WW2 American Army named Desmond Doss, who became the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Doss (Andrew Garfield) who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, learned the true impact of violence at a young age. During a scuffle with his older brother, Doss almost killed his sibling and after that he sworn not to hurt or kill another human beings. His alcoholic father Tom (Hugo Weaving), who happens to be a war veteran himself, tends to physically abuse his mom Bertha (Rachel Griffiths), also made him despise violence. During a visit to a local clinic, Doss’ eye catches Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), a nurse who takes a shine to his humble-but-determined ways, with the pair eventually getting engaged to be married.

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However, before they’re eloped, Doss enlists in the army, uncomfortable with the idea of staying behind while others fight for their country. When he arrives for basic training, Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist, proclaims his interest in being a combat medic, refusing to take part in gun training. Frustrating superiors Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Glover (Sam Worthington), Doss’ faith is put to the test through hazing and menial labor, making an enemy out of Smitty (Luke Bracey). When the unit is finally shipped over to Japan to take Okinawa, the ferocious battle of Hacksaw Ridge presents Doss with a supreme challenge of survival and duty.

Gibson, who I believe is an excellent director, didn’t really do anything new when it comes to storytelling. We get the usual romance montage between Doss and Dorothy, Doss being resented by his peers when he refused to pick up a weapon. But when the battle starts, here’s where Gibson shine as a director. Since he had appeared in several action films, Gibson knows how to staged some of the most intense and bloodiest war battle sequences ever put on film.

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Even though his Southern accent were inconsistent, Garfield’s performance is very good here. He’s a man of faith and really stick to his principles. I was quite surprised by the effective performances by Vaughn, Worthington, Bracey and Palmer. Weaving’s drunken father character is a bit more clichéd, but it’s nice seeing ‘Agent Smith’ playing something other than a bad guy.

It may not be in the same class as other great WW2 pictures like The Thin Red Line or Saving Private Ryan, but I was glad Gibson decided to tell this story. I’ve never heard of Desmond Doss before and after seeing this film, I have nothing but respect for late war veteran.

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Have you seen Hacksaw Ridge? Well, what did you think?

TCFF 2016 Short Film Reviews: ‘The Clubhouse’ + ‘Hookin’ Up’ + ‘The Mermaid Story’ + ‘Twinsburg’

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Can’t believe we only have two more days of TCFF! It’s been quite a whirlwind couple of weeks for me, and I’ve been running pretty much on adrenaline! It’s been so awesome meeting new people, from filmmakers, talents, producers, etc., it’s been so exhilarating and inspiring! I’ll be sure to include pictures in my closing night post!

Today we’ve got some reviews of short films that played during TCFF. I think it’s great there are plenty of short films being screened at the film fest, which feature innovative stories that talented filmmakers capture within a short amount of time. Thanks again Sarah for all your great reviews!

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Club House

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“The Clubhouse,” a seven minute short film directed by and co-written by Dan Delano, tackles one of the vexing issues of a boy’s youth – what to do when a girl moves into the neighborhood and wants to join your game of Dungeons and Dragons? “Girls don’t have any battle strategies,” one boy says dismissively.

I’m always impressed when filmmakers can present a fully fleshed out story in such a short amount of time and this effort is no exception. What ensues is a fantastical “Game of Thrones” inspired thriller that allows the warrior princess to prove her mettle. As many might remember from their youth, she receives acceptance in the most unassuming of ways – an invitation to get ice cream. How does this all come together in seven minutes? Take a “short” break and find out for yourself.

Hookin’ Up

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In “Hookin’ Up,” Jessica (Katie Cunningham) and Peter (Timmy L’Heureux) attempt to have a “perfectly normal Tinder date.” I’m not sure if either have any personal experience with the popular dating app but they do a fine job tackling the awkward conversation that follows. “Oh you like to travel? How orig…too bad your haircut isn’t allowed out of the country,” Katie muses.

“In my last relationship we bought a printer together and when we broke up it was just awkward,” says Peter. The nine minute short film directed by Michael Busch is an unassuming ode to the sometimes bizarre world of relationships…and Scattergories.

The Mermaid Story

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“The Mermaid Story,” the 14 minute short film from Director James Snapko, would have fit in well at the Twin Cities Film Fest in previous years as one of the educational subjects the festival has tackled is the issue of bullying. Although short, this movie’s narrative proves what can happen when people are pushed too far and constantly told that they are stupid or not good enough.

The story centers on two brothers, Curt (Max Giles) and Ace (Chase Hammond), who own a bar in Northern Minnesota. (As the movie was shot on location in Outing, some might recognize local landmarks.) When Curt comes in after a day on the lake and tells of seeing a mermaid in the water, his bar tale is met with skepticism. “What an idiot,” they say.

Giles does a good job of conveying the hurt and anger someone can feel when they are dismissed indifferently. When his brother says angrily, “Okay, show me your water whore” a day on the lake turns into something much more sinister. This film is a good reminder that words do matter.


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Twinsburg

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I grew up with fraternal twin brothers, so I’m immediately intrigued by the premise of identical twin brothers reunited for the largest twins gathering at Twinsburg Ohio. It’s a semi-autobiographical tale from director Joe Garrity, who stars in the film with his real-life twin Phil Garrity. They both have a certain deadpan delivery that’s really a hoot to watch.

Joe plays Jerry, who’s still sentimental about his twin identity and thus more excited about attending the festival than his reluctant brother Paul. It’s amusing to see them riding a tandem bike in their matching costume-y suits, and participate in multiple festival competitions from talent show, most-alike contest to singleton hunt in the woods.

Filmed at the 2014 Twins Days Festival, it’s a quirky, funny yet bittersweet tale of coming to terms with how their childhood tradition no longer fits their changing adult lives. There’s a hint of romance with fellow twins who seem more comfortable doing things apart. Joe Garrity is certainly a talented filmmaker with comic talents, I’m curious to see what else he’d come up with in the future. 

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What’s in store for closing day!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews with Harold Mintz (of 1-800-Give-Us-Your-Kidney short), actor Dominic Rains (who’ll receive the TCFF North Star Award tomorrow night), and director Jon Weinberg (Funeral Day).

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Jon & Dominic in ‘Funeral Day’

FUNERAL DAY’s second screening:
Saturday, October 29 – 10:30am 

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TCFF 2016 Reviews: ‘Oxenfree’ + ‘The Eyes Of My Mother’

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‘Oxenfree’ Review

oxenfree Many of us may remember that expression we used at the end of our games of Hide and Seek – “Olly, Olly, Oxenfree!” The longing to return to juvenile games and stories is a theme in “Oxenfree,” the feature film that had its world premiere at the Twin Cities Film Fest last night. I had the pleasure of being in attendance with the director (Dan Glaser) and actors Steven Molony (Aaron), Paul Vonasek (Roy) and Timothy Lane (Benjamin). Undoubtedly there were many family and friends in attendance as the cast and crew received loud applause when the ending credits rolled.

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Oxenfree tells the story of three estranged foster brothers who return to the family cabin to rediscover the ruins of their childhood kingdom “Oxenfree.” Shot in the Fargo/Moorhead area, I appreciated the beautiful fall scenery throughout the movie. As it only features three actors (aside from a brief appearance of Kelli Breslin as Katie, Aaron’s girlfriend), the strength of this movie really comes from the actors’ camaraderie. It’s obvious these young men enjoy working together and their affinity for each other makes their characters more believable.

The one quibble I had with the film was that it didn’t seem to be able to decide whether it was a comedy or a drama so at times it seemed stuck in a muddling middle. (Even the actors at times looked confused about how to play a scene.) After Roy reclaims his “throne” (an old toilet) in the middle of the forest, he takes a cell phone call from his wife. And then moments of levity like this diverge into a medical drama concerning one of the other brothers. The production value of this movie was there, it just seemed like the script needed a little more work.

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Am I saying I didn’t enjoy the film? I am not. One of the strengths of a film fest is to see movies at many different levels of development. During the post show Q&A, Timothy Lane (Benjamin) talked about how this was the first film he has acted in and discussed the technical side of learning to act on camera. Paul Vonasek also shared how they came up with part of the plot – “We didn’t really look alike but we wanted to do a movie together so that’s how we came up with the idea of being foster brothers.” Oxenfree isn’t going to change your life but was it an enjoyable way to spend a cold and rainy evening? Yes.


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‘The Eyes Of My Mother’ Review

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Writing and directing a film that is both beautiful and horrifying isn’t easy- especially on the first try, and especially at the young age of 26 (which makes me, at 28, feel like a total underachiever). But newcomer Nicolas Pesce has managed it with his already critically-acclaimed movie, The Eyes of my Mother. While it has its flaws, it is an incredible debut, and it’s a promising start to what will hopefully be an illustrious career for Pesce.

The Eyes of my Mother is about Francisca (Kika Magalhaes), a young woman who tragically loses her mother an early age, and, through the trauma and following isolation, develops an unnerving hobby. I won’t say much more, for fear of spoiling the plot, but I will say that Francisca’s mother used to be a surgeon, and the two of them would practice dissections on cows, so the girl knows how to use a knife. I’ll let your imagination fill in the rest from there.

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The movie begins on a tense note, and is able to hold that suspense throughout most of the film, thanks to both Pesce’s skillful directing and the cast’s strong acting. There is very little background music, which creates an unnerving atmosphere. There are frequent shots from the first-person perspective and just over the actors’ shoulders, obscuring their faces, creating both an air of uncertainty and an opportunity for the actors to demonstrate their acting abilities by relying solely on their line delivery. Shooting the film in black and white was an excellent choice as well; it enhanced the shadowy scenery, and the starkness made the tone even more unsettling.

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That’s not to say the movie is without flaws. It’s a relatively short film, clocking in at only an hour and sixteen minutes, which doesn’t allow much time for character development- and in a movie where so much of the film centers around one character, it was especially needed. The short runtime also meant certain plot points weren’t properly explained. Ambiguity in horror movies can be a powerful tool, but too much can confuse the audience and take them out of the experience.

While The Eyes of my Mother isn’t a perfect movie, it is still a stunning first film from a promising young talent, and I look forward to seeing more from him.



TWIN CITIES FILM FEST ANNOUNCES AWARDS FINALISTS!

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Moonlight,’ ‘Blood Stripe’ and ‘Iron Will’ lead 2016 awards contenders…
many finalists are set to screen during TCFF’s closing weekend!

Check out the full list of finalists here


Check out some of the studio features
playing in the final days of TCFF!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and talent interviews!


TCFF 2016 Documentary Reviews: ‘In Search Of America’ + ‘Beyond The Thrill’ + ‘The Unrelenting Charlie Davies’

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There’s no shortage of great documentaries at TCFF! Today we’ve got a trio of reviews, thanks to FC contributor Sarah Johnson, my awesome reviewing partner during the film fest. Check out her bio page here, she’s a MN-based freelance writer who also writes for City Pages.

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‘In Search Of America’ Review

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Haven’t gotten enough of the presidential campaign over the past year? Throughout In Search of America, Marc Kornblatt, a former elementary school teacher from Wisconsin, crisscrosses the United States asking people from all walks of life about the issues of the day.

In one scene, Jonathan Katz, a professor of physics at Washington University, says, “Unless someone is a criminal or a terrorist, we should welcome immigrants.” In another scene, Heather Creighton from Toomsuba, Mississippi says, “I try to avoid politics and express what I believe in, which is the good Lord above.” As the camera pans out, you can see she is sitting under a Confederate flag. “It’s not a bad flag…I don’t know why everyone thinks it is?” She wonders.

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So this documentary definitely has a point of view but the more I watched it and listened to the people being interviewed the more I felt like it was not about what political party you belong to or where you live, it was just a very human portrait of people struggling along in this country as best they can. “My father was in the military so I grew up overseas,” said Joanne VanDeusen. “I wish every American could have the opportunity to travel outside of the United States and meet the real people of the world.”

A quote from Edith Neimark, a diminutive white haired lady from South Brunswick, New Jersey, summed up the angst of many Americans when she gave her opinion on the bloodshed around the world. “Kill someone because you don’t like them? What’s that going to solve? But how do you stop it? I have no idea.” “As we say in the Badger State,” Kornblatt opines near the end of the movie, “Forward.” What other choice do we have?

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‘Beyond The Thrill’ Review

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Mixed with creative camera work and a frank discussion about what draws them to such a risky endeavor, “Beyond the Thrill” is an intriguing look at the world of competitive skydiving. Director Jason Schumacher (some Twin Cities Film Fest regulars may remember him from winning the Short Film Audience Award for his Sad Clown in 2014) finds some beautiful scenery as a backdrop to showcase a four person team at terminal velocity.

“That feeling in your stomach after you jump…I was kind of afraid of it but I loved it,” says one skydiver. “You could be a doctor or you could be a garbageman…it doesn’t mean much at the drop zone,” says another. Schumacher does a good job highlighting some of the work the team does (in one scene they are rolling around on skateboards to practice their routines) and also interviews United States Parachute Association Regional Judge Jon Goswitz on how each team gains or loses points for completed formations.

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It doesn’t shy away from the inherent danger either: in one scene, Andy Junghans, wearing a Skydive Twin Cities hat, tells the story of a fellow skydiver who didn’t react quickly enough when his chute got tangled up while in the air. “When other divers reached him, they saw that his femurs were shoved up into his rib cage and he was gurgling blood…he stayed like that for about five minutes until he died.”

While it would have been interesting to learn more about what these people do in their “day jobs” or how their family and friends feel about their hobby, Schumacher ably brings us into this intense world of adrenaline.

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‘The Unrelenting Charlie Davies’ Review
(documentary short)

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Given what he has gone through in his life, The Unrelenting Charlie Davies, the 17-minute short film directed by Bryan Reisberg that premiered earlier this year on ESPN2, feels like a missed opportunity. It features Charlie Davies, once called “the most promising striker in American soccer,” and his recovery from a horrific car accident that nearly took his life.

Davies was a popular athlete who went on from Boston College to play for the US national team. In 2009, he got into a car with two women he didn’t know well and was injured when the driver smashed into a metal guardrail. With a shattered femur and a fractured skull, one of his friends said “he looked like he was dead.” The movie seems to skip ahead to his first game after the accident where he, despite having a right leg 1 ½ inches shorter than his left, scored two goals.

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It would have been interesting to learn more about the aftermath and psychology of the accident: What was it like to survive that? To what do you attribute your ability to go through that and come back to play soccer at a high level? What has changed in your life as a result of the accident? It was well done (I’m not a soccer fan but I enjoyed his biography) but it just felt like the filmmakers could have dug a lot deeper.

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What’s in store for Day 8 & 9!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews!