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


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.


‘In Search Of America’ Review


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.


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?


‘Beyond The Thrill’ Review


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.


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.


‘The Unrelenting Charlie Davies’ Review
(documentary short)


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.


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.


What’s in store for Day 8 & 9!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews!

TCFF 2016 Documentaries Reviews: ‘Denial’ + ‘Prison Dogs’


We’re now on its halfway point of the 11-day film festivities! I’ve been watching plenty of documentaries back to back, and today we’ve got reviews of two excellent ones we highly recommend.


‘Denial’ Review


Our nation’s electrical grid and having a transgender family member. The two don’t seem to be related, do they? They will after you see Denial, the first feature film for director Derek Hallquist. The background for this movie and the story it turned into are as interesting as the film itself.

It starts out as a traditional documentary, with Hallquist’s father, David, the CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, attempting to educate his son on the shortcomings of our nation’s power grid and the threat of climate change. It’s a little wonky: “Okay, I lost you there,” the son says at one point.


During the shooting of the movie, a family secret is revealed: his father has come out to the family as transgender and wants to live as a woman named Christine. One of the things I admired about this film is that it doesn’t sugarcoat the struggles the family goes through. “We didn’t know how to handle it,” Derek says. While he comes out to his family, he struggles to fit his new identity into his work life. “He says he’s Dave at the co-op because he has a contract,” his wife says. “Well, we had a contract too.”

Change is hard. Both of these situations are transformative social and moral issues. “We don’t think very much about the amount of electricity we use until it smacks us in the face,” Dr. Courtney Warren, a social psychologist, says in the film. The same could be said for the process the Hallquist family is going through. Through the work of an earnest young filmmaker, he uses his own family’s situation to bring a new voice to something that affects everyone.



‘Prison Dogs’ Review


This is one of TCFF’s Changemaker Series’ films playing this year tackling the topic of PTSD, and it’s no doubt one of my favorite docs of the year. The bond of humans and animals are undisputed, but the bond between service dogs and their masters are pivotal. Prison Dogs explores a groundbreaking program that offers the gift of a second chance to prisoners in which they train puppies to be service dogs for veterans with PTSD.


The film is set in New York’s Fishkill Correctional Facility where the many inmates serve a long sentence for violent crimes such as murder and armed robbery. At the start of the film, a selected number of inmates get assigned a puppy to train, and the joy and excitement is palpable. For them this is a gift of redemption, it’s their chance to pay their debts to society in some ways. The show also shows Gloria Gilbert Stoga, the feisty dog expert who runs the Puppies Behind Bars program and her tough love approach to teach the inmates to train their puppies. It shows an amusing moments where these inmates are intimidated by her, who expects a 100% commitment and responsibilities from the inmates.


It’s one of the most moving, as well as entertaining documentaries that truly make you fully invested in the subjects’ journey. Whether it’s the inmates, the dog expert or the veterans who gets to keep the service dog in the end, I care about each and every one of them by the end. This is what an amazing storytelling is all about, so I applaud directors Geeta Gandbhir and Perri Peltz, who each have won Emmys and Peabody awards respectively. I’ve never heard of this life-altering program before but I’ve come to believe that it just could be the answer to making a prison a real place of rehabilitation.


Be sure to bring tissues when you see this one. The scenes between the inmates and their puppies tug your heartstrings, especially the ‘graduation’ scene where the puppies are now certified service dogs ready to go home with their new masters. The inmates kept a journal as they trained the dogs and it’s heart-wrenching to watch them say goodbye to their four-legged friends.

I can’t recommend this enough folks, run don’t walk to see this when it plays near you. It proves that despite the bleak subject matter, the film can be a joyful, inspiring and uplifting experience. It one of those documentaries I don’t even mind watching again!


PRISON DOGS is now available on @iTunes, Amazon Video and Google Play.

Get the TCFF App!

The TCFF app is such a lifesaver for me. Instead of futzing with paper that’s easily lost, download the app so you have easy access the film schedule at your fingertips! It’s got all the info for the daily educational events as well as film schedule, which is immensely helpful!


What’s in store for Day 6 & 7!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and interviews!

Guest Review: Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)



I’m going to be honest: my expectations for this movie were not high. This mostly has to do with its predecessor, 2014’s Ouija (brought to you by Hasbro Studios: the same company responsible for next fall’s My Little Pony: The Movie – no, I’m not kidding). Not that Ouija was awful- it was just forgettable: another lukewarm “teenagers getting in over their heads with the supernatural” horror movie. I was also concerned that, because Ouija: Origin of Evil is a prequel to the 2014 film, I would know what to expect and therefore not find anything about it scary. However, after viewing it, I was pleasantly surprised (which I realize is a weird thing to say about a movie featuring the demonic possession of a child). It actually ended up being one my new favorite modern horror movies.

Ouija: Origin of Evil takes place fifty years before the first movie, in the house the original was set in, where recent widow Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser) holds fake séances, insisting she is not scamming her customers, but rather helping them find peace after losing loved ones. She is assisted by her two daughters: teenaged Paulina (Annalise Basso) and nine-year-old Doris (Lulu Wilson). Alice purchases a Ouija board to add to her act, and, while testing it out, unwittingly causes Doris to become susceptible to the house’s malevolent spirits and quickly possessed by one named Marcus (played by human chameleon and Guillermo del Toro darling Doug Jones). Alice and Paulina join forces with Father Tom (Henry Thomas), the head of the girls’ parochial school, to free Doris from the spirit’s clutches and rid the house of an evil that has resided there longer than the family has.


One of the movie’s greatest strengths was that it featured a mother and her daughters rather than a handful of one-dimensional high schoolers. The family focus made the stakes feel higher and the consequences more heartbreaking, especially thanks to the chemistry between the actresses. The movie was also well-paced enough to establish a strong relationship between the characters and give them dimension early on. My one gripe on this subject is that Doris isn’t quite as well-developed as her mother and sister; perhaps it’s because she’s possessed during the majority of the movie and isn’t herself, but getting a better idea of what she was like as a normal little girl could have made the change we see in her after the possession more unsettling (think Reagan in The Exorcist). Overall, though, the family was well-written enough for the audience to actually care about their fate- not an easy feat for a movie genre that often skips character development in favor of jumping straight into the scares.


And man, were there plenty of scares in this movie. As I mentioned earlier, the first movie was pretty forgettable; there might have been a couple moments that made me jump, but I couldn’t give you any specifics, and I only watched it less than two weeks ago. The prequel, however, had plenty of memorable moments- moments that had me whispering “NOPE NOPE NOPE NOPE” and clutching my armrests in terror. Doris’s CGI’d, gape-mouthed face featured in the promotional material is truly chilling, and, surprisingly, isn’t any less eerie the more you see it. Even the more predictable parts were unnerving, just because they were built up so well. The writer and director, Mike Flanagan, is hardly a horror movie novice, and his experience in creating suspense and atmosphere shines here.


As of my writing this, Ouija: Origin of Evil has an 84% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s an impressive score for a horror movie, especially for a follow-up to such an underwhelming one, and it’s well-earned. Who would have expected the studio responsible for bringing us the Jem and the Holograms movie was capable of producing something genuinely scary? I would highly recommend anyone who enjoys horror check this out.

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:

Have you seen ‘Ouija: Origin Of Evil’? Well, what did you think? 

TCFF 2016 Reviews: ‘First Girl I Loved’ + ‘My Scientology Movie’ doc



‘First Girl I Loved’ Review


First Girl I Loved is a coming-of-age story for the social media generation. Mix this with a narrative about teenage sexuality and you have the new feature film written and directed by Kerem Sanga. It stars Dylan Gelula as Anne, the nerdy high school yearbook photographer, Brianna Hildebrand as Sasha, star of the softball team and the object of Anne’s desire, and Mateo Arias as Clifton, Anne’s best friend who secretly loves her.

This is a movie that whether you like it may depend on what mood you are in. On one hand, the lead characters in this movie are teenagers that act like teenagers (no deep psychological speeches here). On the other hand, there is a lot of giggling and nonsensical teenager speak that can get annoying.

The narrative at times can be confusing as it’s told in flashback from each character’s perspective. If this was intentional to help the audience understand how conflicted these young people are, it succeeded. Dylan Gelula in particular is a standout in this movie, as she aptly portrays the angst of the high school years. I feel like this movie will really strike a chord with some viewers but unfortunately I am not one of them.


‘My Scientology Movie’ Review


I was intrigued by this documentary when I learned of the unconventional method that documentarian Louis Theroux (apparently cousin of actor Justin Theroux) in approaching the controversial subject matter. Directed by John Dower, Louis traveled around Los Angeles to investigate what goes on behind the scenes of the elusive church of scientology. But instead of featuring expert ‘talking heads’ as most documentaries typically do, Louis instead chooses to re-enact some of the practices and speeches, based on recruitment/marketing videos from the church that he got from whistleblowers.

The style immediately reminds me of The Act of Killing documentary where filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer exposed one of the most brutal genocide in history that took place in Indonesia with re-enactments of the murderous ‘act’ itself. The difference is, Joshua used the actual perpetrators of the event to re-enact them, whilst Louis hired unknown actors to play the roles of major figures of scientology, including the church leader David Miscavige and the movie star Tom Cruise, the most famous celebrity scientologist in the world.

The result isn’t quite as hauntingly profound as The Act Of Killing, but still it’s quite a revelatory as well as amusing documentary. There are moments that are downright hilarious, such as when people start showing up across the street from where Louis was filming with their own video camera. When they’re confronted, they refuse to say who they are, but there’s little doubt they’re likely sent by the church to investigate Louis’ crew. The church also blocked certain roads and claimed they owned the property, which at the end is proven that it was in fact a public road. These encounters are often hilarious, but that’s not to say there’s no serious nor intense moment in the film.


The exchange between Louis and Mark Rathbun, a former senior executive of the Church of Scientology who ‘blew’ from the church, is quite intense. There’s a certain unpredictability to Mark given that he was the inspector general of the church at one point. In fact, another whistleblower claimed that Mark had punched him during one of the most controversial practices. The scene where the actors re-enacted a brutal interrogation scene where Miscavige was berating some church members inside a room was quite intense, and I never know if at one point the actor playing Miscavige might snap and start hitting people.

Of course the church denies all the malpractices depicted in the film, including the infamous Hole that’s basically a prison for senior executives they deem as misbehaving. The whistleblowers were candid about the extreme abuse and human rights violation they suffered, to the point that they’d rather die than having to stay in the church. One of the most memorable moments was when Louis and his crew were watching a video of Tom Cruise talking passionately about scientology and they paused at a footage of him with a wild, fierce look on his eyes, as if he’s ready to strangle anyone to defend his religion. But I think its leader Miscavige is just as scary if not more as Cruise was, and he’s even more elusive.

As this is the first documentary on scientology I’ve seen so far, I don’t know if this is the definitive film on the subject. I’d think Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief might give more insights into scientology, just based on Gibney’s previous work. Still, this one is worth a look, an entertaining doc that’d make an intriguing discussion afterwards.


Get the TCFF App!

The TCFF app is such a lifesaver for me. Instead of futzing with paper that’s easily lost, download the app so you have easy access the film schedule at your fingertips! It’s got all the info for the daily educational events as well as film schedule, which is immensely helpful!


What’s in store for Day 5 & 6!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and talent interviews!

TCFF 2016 Reviews: ‘Funeral Day’ + ‘In Pursuit of Silence’ doc


I know the next 10 days is going to be a whirlwind! Day 3 of Twin Cities Film Fest has pretty much come and gone. Thanks to Sarah Johnson, my awesome reviewing partner during TCFF, for contributing to the reviews of various indie and short films. Check out her bio page here, she’s a MN-based freelance writer who also writes for City Pages.


‘Funeral Day’ Review


“I am probably going to punch you in the face,” one of his friends says to Scott (Jon Weinberg) early in “Funeral Day.” Most of us have a slightly neurotic friend that we love anyway. In his feature film directorial debut, Weinberg also tackles the lead role as a hypochondriac who finds a mysterious lump on his testicle the day of his friend’s funeral and decides to skip it in order to start living his life to the fullest.


Jon Weinberg & Dominic Rains

We meet a cast of characters – the jilted ex-girlfriend (Rahnuma Panthaky), the sleazy real estate agent (Dominic Rains, who has my favorite line of the movie – “I work for a living, do you think I have time for friends?”) and the Zach Galifianakis-type Chuck (Tyler Labine) – in Scott’s search for meaning.

While the cast is strong, I found the script at times (written by Kris Elgstrand) to be a little too raunchy, in that it almost took away from what would otherwise be an unexpectedly light way to look at dark topics such as illness and morality. Unquestionably what saves the movie for me is the winsome charm of Weinberg in his portrayal of a nuanced character.



‘In Pursuit Of Silence’ Review


Even before watching the trailer, I was immediately intrigued by the idea of In Pursuit of Silence. Billed as a meditative film about our relationship with silence and the impact of noise on our lives, it does exactly what it says on the tin. I truly believe silence is a lost art, as we’ve become increasingly absorbed by the bustling world around us and become more desensitized by it. I love documentaries like this that really make you pause and think about the world around you.


Mr. Orfield at Orfield Lab in Minneapolis

Directed by Patrick Shen, the film itself uses sound… and silence, in a unique way. There are plenty of scenes where the only sound is comes from nature, be it the rustling trees or grass in a field, sound of water streams, or the wind in a vast, expansive space. It features several talking heads of experts in the field, some are actually on the field measuring the decibel level of certain environments. It’s amazing how loud certain cities have become that it far exceeds what the normal human hearing should withstand. The extended exposure of such loud sounds will no doubt cause hearing loss, yet most of us don’t realize it. I think people pay more attention to air pollution than sound pollution, but the latter can be just as damaging to our health.

It also takes to to various parts of the world… Japan, India, London, New York, as well as Minneapolis. The film features Orfield Laboratories in Minneapolis, which lab is 99.99 percent soundproof and thus considered one of the quietest places in the world. I love how the film contrast the quiet serenity of a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto with the deafening sound of the loudest city on the planet that is Mumbai during the thundering festival season.

In his director statement on the film’s website, Shen said that he …’hope that the film challenges audiences to slow down and on some level make the world new again for them.’ I think the film accomplishes that and it truly serves as a respite for me as I’m going through the busiest time of the year covering for TCFF. I’m definitely glad I watched this and I think every citizen of the world should!


Get the TCFF App!

The TCFF app is such a lifesaver for me. Instead of futzing with paper that’s easily lost, download the app so you have easy access the film schedule at your fingertips! It’s got all the info for the daily educational events as well as film schedule, which is immensely helpful!


What’s in store for Day 4 & 5!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and my interview with the filmmaker of Word of Honour: Reclaiming Mandela’s Promise documentary!

Word of Honour: Reclaiming Mandela’s Promise Screening:
Sunday, October 23 | 3:45 pm.

Highlights from TCFF 2016 Opening Night + Review of ‘Blood Stripe’


For the seventh year in a row, Twin Cities Film Fest is keeping up with tradition of opening the film festivities with a strong film. Last year it opened with an inspiring documentary A New High which goes with 2015’s Changemaker series that supported Homeless Youth, along with the heart-wrenching drama Room featuring Brie Larson who went on to win an Oscar. This year’s social cause is veteran support and once again TCFF picked a stellar Minnesota-made film that features an Oscar-worthy performance by Kate Nowlin. Check out my review below…

Highlights from Opening Night

I’m thrilled that I was able to see Blood Stripe on opening night! In fact, I was at the first screening of the night as initially there was only one screening of the film at 8:30, but it was sold out even two weeks before its screening. The film’s writer/director Remy Auberjonois and writer/lead actress Kate Nowlin, along with supporting cast members René Auberjonois (yes, Remy’s own father) and Rusty Schwimmer were on hand for a Q&A following the screening.

It was awesome meeting some people who worked on the film at the red carpet at the bustling Showplace ICON lobby. I had a nice chat with Blood Stripe‘s script supervisor Aleshia Mueller, whom I had met at TCFF gala last month. My pal Kirsten Gregerson, who played a supporting role in the film, was there also with her sister Kim. I also ran into fellow blogger/actress Emmylou Barden before the film started.



‘Blood Stripe’ Review

When I interviewed filmmakers Remy Auberjonois and Kate Nowlin a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t seen the film yet. I knew it was a terrific film based on the reviews I’ve read out of L.A. Film Festival, well, to say I was floored by it is putting it mildly.


Right from its opening scene when the film’s protagonist first touched down on the airport, I was immediately intrigued by her. Known only as Our Sergeant, she just returned home to Minnesota from her military duty. The film didn’t specify which country she was placed in, though later she did talk about her time in Iraq and Afghanistan. The film isn’t political, nor does it point finger about the cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) many soldiers suffer. It’s a story about a combat vet who happens to be a female Marine, and the trials and tribulations she goes through in the film.

Despite the dark subject matter, the film is far from somber. It’s effortlessly engaging, thanks to Kate Nowlin‘s immense screen presence. She is tough, powerful yet vulnerable, and Nowlin embodied her character so beautifully. I have to admit I’m not really into war-themed films in general, but I’ve always been drawn to those that focus on the psychological aspect of the soldiers, i.e. The Thin Red Line. But Blood Stripe captures the brutality of war without actually showing it. It’s a mental torture that the ‘Sarge’ endured, at times she’s on the brink of losing it, and it’s a truly haunting performance. Remy Auberjonois contrasted that mental torment with the striking serenity of Lake Vermilion in Northern Minnesota. This film could practically double as a tourism video of Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region, the scenery is absolutely stunning that it made me want to book a trip there pronto.


I was truly in awe by Nowlin’s extraordinary performance. She also co-wrote the script so she must’ve spent a lot of time with her character, but it’s still quite a feat given that she had no military training prior to taking on this project. I also appreciate the fact that the film utilized all of the supporting cast well, as each had their moment to shine. Chris Sullivan (who I just saw recently in Stranger Things) was terrific as Sarge’s husband, as was Rusty Schwimmer who played the camp’s caretaker where Sarge worked. Tom Lipinski also did a memorable turn as The Fisherman who befriended Sarge. Last but not least, we’ve got the venerable character actor René Auberjonois as the church elder Art who’s the comic relief in the film.

It’s so rare to see female soldiers being depicted on the big screen and I think Nowlin’s portrayal does them justice. The enigmatic ending lingers long after the opening credits, this film certainly adds the conversation to the topic of PTSD in a compelling way. I can’t recommend this one enough to anyone who loves war-themed films, as well as those in the lookout of a captivating, character-driven drama. I sure hope this will get a decent theatrical release around the country as Blood Stripe absolutely deserves to be seen.


What’s in store for Day 2!

Check out all the films playing on Day 2 of TCFF here, tons of great indie films such as June Falling Down, Funeral Day, Road To The Well, as well as great documentaries such as In Pursuit of Silence, I Do? and Have a Baby.

Stay tuned to my interview with June Falling Down‘s writer/director and star Rebecca Weaver!

FlixChatter Review: The Accountant (2016)


It’s kind of an interesting choice for Ben Affleck to do this movie in the same year as Batman V Superman. Some people call this one as an unconventional superhero movie about an autistic accountant, and it wouldn’t be wrong as there’s certainly traces of Bruce Wayne in the film protagonist, Christian Wolff. Heck even his name sounds like a superhero alter-ego, though I whisper to my hubby during the movie ‘Bruce Wayne wouldn’t be caught dead in a Ford F-150!


From the time Christian was a boy, he’s a whiz with numbers. The movie opens with him working on a puzzle at a child psychiatric office with his parents and his younger brother. There’s constant flashback on him being taught by his military dad, and the film makes a point to contrast him with his more ‘normal’ sibling. Though he works at a small town CPA office in a nondescript strip mall, of course our protagonist is more than meets the eye. As it turns out, he’s been offering freelance services to some of the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations. The head of the Treasury Department’s crime unit, Ray King (J.K. Simmons), has been investigating Christian for some time and with the help of his new protégé Marybeth (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), he’s closing in on him.

accountant_simmons_robinson One of the most amusing moments is when Christian takes on a job with a robotics company where he meets Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), an accounting clerk who discovered a discrepancy involving millions of dollars. Naturally the accounting whiz only needs a single night 15-years worth of bookkeeping to figure out the exact sum. Kendrick’s vivacious personality is a fun contrast to Affleck’s forlorn and subdued’s character, though the supposed ‘romance’ between the two can only be described as awkward. Yes Christian is supposed to be socially impaired but the scene comes across as completely weird that it takes me out of the movie. Too bad Kendrick’s role is actually pretty small here as the movie could use a bit more of her dynamic energy.


The concept is actually interesting but the overwrought script by Bill Dubuque (who also wrote the tedious The Judge) packed way too much into a 2-hour film. There are countless flashbacks that become repetitive real fast, especially when practically every single character gets a backstory. The scene when King talked about his encounter with Christian could’ve easily been trimmed down considerably as it threatens to grind the movie to a halt. The way Marybeth investigates Christian also plays out like an episode of Law & Order or CSI. This is the second film from Gavin O’Connor I saw, the first time being Warrior which I think is an excellent drama also involving a pair of brothers. Can’t say I’m impressed with his work here, it made me think if the film would’ve been better had Affleck himself had directed this.


The third act is when we get Batfleck vs. Punisher, as Jon Bernthal played the head of security of the company Bat… er Christian is hellbent on taking down. Somehow it escaped me that Affleck has played Daredevil once too, so the fight scene at the end is also Daredevil vs. Punisher! Ok so as a superhero fan, the casting makes the mano a mano more amusing than it otherwise would, but the twist might actually harken memories from BVS, though it’s not quite as insipid as the ‘Martha’ fiasco. I just think it’s so on-the-nose that it took the thrill of finding out the twist and it’s actually quite cringe-worthy the more you think about it. I do like Bernthal here though, no doubt he’s great in action scenes but his character is actually not devoid of personality. At least he gets his chance to shine briefly unlike John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor whose talents are largely wasted.


Overall I feel that this movie has a lot of potential that’s not fully realized. Just as some teachers would say to students that they’re not applying themselves, I feel the same about this movie. Despite all that clutter and sluggish pacing, there are some entertaining moments, hence my generous rating. That scene where we first see Christian in action at a farmhouse involving two hired goons is probably my favorite part in the movie. I guess I have a thing for nerdy superhero and this is practically Affleck’s version of Clark Kent. I read somewhere that Warner Bros wants to create a franchise out of this movie. Meh, that’d be so ill-advised given how incredibly bloated the superhero genre has been, and really, we already have Affleck playing a sullen, wealthy, bad-ass superhero who clearly has issues.


Have you seen ‘The Accountant’? Well what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: Bridget Jones’ Baby (2016)


To be honest with you I hadn’t paid much attention to this franchise. Yes I enjoyed the first movie but I wasn’t clamoring to see the sequel. But once I learned that Emma Thompson had written the script, well it changed everything! Her Oscar-winning script results in one of my fave film of all time, the 1995 Ang Lee’s version of Sense & Sensibility. This one also has a Jane Austen connection. Obviously w/ the main male character named after her most famous hero Mr. Darcy, but it’s also got Gemma Jones who played Emma’s mother in S&S as Bridget’s mom.


In any case, we’ve got the bumbling-but-charming heroine back and Bridget is still as endearing as ever. Renée Zellweger remains committed as she was twelve years ago in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, it’s definitely the role she’ll be most remembered for. As the film starts with the song ‘All by myself’ we know immediately what state of mind she’s in, celebrating her birthday all by herself. It’s like a bus, you wait for one for weeks and suddenly two arrive at the same time! So, as luck would have it, within a week Bridget ends up running into a new guy Jack (Patrick Dempsey) and her beloved ex Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) who’s now married to a woman named Camilla. When I said *running into* these two guys, of course it involves more than that as our protagonist got knocked up.

The film pretty much revolves around the question ‘who’s the father?’ Don’t worry, I wouldn’t spoil it for you, though even if you do know who it is, it’s not really going to spoil the movie. The ongoing rivalry between Jack and Mark isn’t as explosive as the ones between Mark and the dastardly charming Daniel (played Hugh Grant), but it’s still pretty fun to watch. It’s interesting how Bridget first saw Mark in this movie at Daniel’s funeral, where they stole glances at each other. Of course Bridget Jones movies has always had a Cinderella fantasy aspect, but they turned it up a notch in this last one. It’s certainly fairy tale territory when you’ve got a hot, rich guy falling for you after witnessing you fall smack dab into a mud, never mind the fact that she wore dainty kitten heels to a Glastonbury music festival!


I think the funniest bits involve Emma Thompson as Bridget’s OB/GYN, especially when she realized Bridget didn’t know who the baby daddy is. I wish she had more screen time as she’s always a hoot to watch. Whilst Thompson is new to the franchise, director Sharon Maguire is back again after directing the first Bridget Jones movie. I’d say this movie still delivers (pardon the pun) the laugh from start to finish, even if the movie itself might be uneven and some of the jokes feel past its sell-by date (Gangnam style? Hitler cats??) It’s ironic given the character actually says those exact words in the movie. But when the jokes are spot on, it’s thigh-slappingly hilarious. From the scene in the birthing class to the moment the two guys have to take turns carrying her to the hospital, they had me in stitches. The slapstick comedy involving a heavily pregnant Bridget and a revolving door is a moment of comedic gold. There’s also an amusing bit when Bridget and her anchor friend Miranda (Sarah Solemani) ended up bringing the wrong guest on the air for their cable news program. I certainly find myself laughing much more watching this than another female-centered British comedy Absolutely Fabulous.

Zellweger’s still fun to watch as Bridget, even though her looks has changed so much since the last movie. It’s not a criticism of how Reneé looks at all. It’s just an observation that she might’ve done something to her face, and a testament of the pressure for actresses in Hollywood to defy aging. Dempsey as the new guy is quite a pleasant surprise to me, as I’m not his biggest fan of McDreamy. He’s actually got some comedic chops and his Jack is quite a contrast to the stiff-upper-lip Mark. Firth’s certainly got that perpetually-exasperated expression down pat ever since he played Mr. Darcy in 1995! He’s still Bridget’s ‘knight in shining armor.’ There’s even a scene of him coming through the fog in his long overcoat to *rescue* the damsel in distress, well it’s just Bridget being locked out of her own apartment. It’s so ridiculously over-the-top but in a cheeky kind of way.


The supporting cast is great all around, from Bridget’s parents (Jim Broadbent and Gemma Jones), and her trio of friends (Sally Phillips, Shirley Henderson and James Callis) are all back albeit briefly. There’s a funny cameo in the beginning of Ed Sheeran but I actually didn’t recognize him as I don’t really listen to current pop music.

I laughed quite a bit watching this, so all things considered, this sequel is still riotously entertaining. The cast look like they’re having fun with this, especially Zellweger herself who’s still fun to watch as Bridget. I still think sequels are generally extraneous, but if you’re gonna do one anyway, better make it worth your while. I actually don’t mind watching this again when it’s out on rental, it’ll make for a fun girls’ movie night😉


Have you seen ‘Bridget Jones’ Baby’? Well, what did YOU think?


FlixChatter Review: The Magnificent Seven (2016)


I gotta admit, I’m not much of a Western fan. Though interestingly enough, I’ve liked three western remakes in the past decade: 3:10 To Yuma, True Grit and then this one. Confession: I have NOT seen any of the original films. Now, people who have seen the original films would likely have a different opinion about the remake. For me, I guess I get the benefit of seeing the story for the first time, with nothing to compare it with.

The main draw for me to see this is the cast. Reportedly director Antoine Fuqua pitched the film to financiers with ‘Denzel Washington in all black riding a horse.’ Well if I were one of those financiers I’d definitely say ‘hell yeah’ to that, and that is quite a sight to behold. As with a lot of Westerns, well those I’ve seen anyway, we see the lone hero riding into town on his horse before we finally see his face. It’s interesting that Denzel being Black in that era naturally drives extra attention from townsfolk, even more so as he goes into a saloon. He’s definitely got the natural charisma, and here he’s got that cowboy swagger to boot!


In the opening scene, we see a merciless and cruel industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (a slimy Peter Sarsgaard) terrorizing and murdering people in the tiny town for their land and mines. Poor Matt Bomer barely lasted past the opening credits! The first half pretty much is a recruiting process as Denzel’s Sam Chisolm gathered enough men to fight against Bogue and his men. First one he recruited is Josh Faraday (a great name that fits Chris Pratt nicely), a strapping cowboy w/ a devil-may-care attitude. Next  are Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and his partner in crime Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), tall-dark-and-handsome Mexican outlaw Vazquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), skilled tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio) and lastly, Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier). Each member of the awesomely-monikered gang has their own special skills, and given that Fuqua employed actors of various races, the skill is tailored to their heritage. Billy Rocks is a knife-wielding expert and Red Harvest is a master in archery, etc. but of course all of them are adept with guns as well. Out of the seven riders, naturally Denzel is my fave. Pratt looks like he’s having a blast here and I really like the dynamic between Hawke and Lee as the unlikely BFFs. I also couldn’t help swooning over Garcia-Rulfo, I sure hope to see more of Mexican actor in the future.

I have a great time watching this thanks to the eclectic cast. Apart from the calm and wise Chisolm, they look like they could be killing each other too and the banters are pretty fun throughout. Naturally this is not a character-driven piece, so details such as what exactly happened to Robicheaux is unclear. The only one with somewhat of a backstory is Chisolm, which isn’t revealed until the very end. Given that it’s 2016, writers Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto updated the story with a strong woman in the core of the conflict. Emma Cullen (newcomer Haley Bennett) isn’t so much a damsel in distress, as she actively seeks out Chisolm to help avenge her town and she refuses to just sit and watch the battle unfolds. I think the weakest link here is Sarsgaard who is more annoying than menacing. Even the last mano-a-mano is rather lackluster as he barely hold a candle to Denzel in terms of charisma and screen presence.


The action and shootouts are what one would expect, peppered with humor and one liners, mostly from Pratt. Some of the action is preposterous, as some of the heroes manage to stay alive despite being shot several times but they can take down their enemies with a single bullet. But hey, I was expecting a fun action comedy instead of a deep, story-driven piece, so I’m not exactly disappointed. What it lacks in genuine suspense it’s more than made up by the well-staged action and stunning cinematography. I sure hope Mauro Fiore‘s name will come up during award season as he’s done amazing work here that made me wish I had seen this movie on IMAX! He’s a longtime Fuqua collaborator who’s also the DP for Avatar.


I have to mention the fantastic music as well. The late James Horner wrote seven pieces of the score before he died, so this was his last project. His wonderful score still has a bit of the iconic theme by Elmer Bernstein, and I love that they used the rousing original score (which I called the Marlboro score as it’s used in its commercial) at the end of the movie. I’m definitely going to do a Music Break on it as my hubby and I’ve been listening to the soundtrack all weekend!

I’m glad I saw this movie and it’s one I don’t even mind seeing again. I can’t tell you if it’s as magnificent as the original, but if you’re looking for a fun ride full of entertaining characters, you could do far worse than this remake. In fact, my hubby and I are contemplating about seeing this again on an IMAX screen, it just might be the first Western I’m willing to see twice on the big screen!


Have you seen this movie? Well, did you like it more or less than I did?