FlixChatter Review – Atomic Blonde (2017)

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Directed By: David Leitch
Written By: Kurt Johnstad (screenplay)
Runtime: 1 hr 55 minutes

When I found out I would be reviewing this film, I pulled up an article on it for a little background information-and made the mistake of reading the comments. They were mostly all the same, with guys accusing Atomic Blonde of being pandering and asserting that the movie is unrealistic because women are too frail and weak to be badass action heroes. It was infuriating, and it made me hope that that this movie would be amazing, just to spite the trolls. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.

In Atomic Blonde, an adaptation of the graphic novel series The Coldest City by Antony Johnston, MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) recounts her mission in Cold War Berlin to track down a list of double agents to MI6 executive Eric Gray (Toby Jones) and CIA official Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman). From the moment she meets up with fellow agent David Percival (James McAvoy), Lorraine is plunged into danger and intrigue as she works to complete her mission.

This is an incredibly fun action movie. The fight choreography is impressive, ranging from creative and graceful to realistically graphic, and even some of that is surprisingly gorgeous; there’s one scene where blood is spattered on a large painting of a woman’s face right on her mouth, making it look almost like a messy lipstick kiss. Having it all set to a phenomenal soundtrack of 80’s rock makes it even more entertaining. 
 The technical aspects of the movie are impressive as well. The editing is tight and creative; one moment that stands out is in a scene where a body being thrown into a river, and as soon as it hits the surface, the scene cuts to Lorraine’s face breaking the water as she sits up in a bathtub. There are several gorgeous, well-balanced shots. The film overall is dark and gritty but glossy, which is perfect for a graphic novel adaptation, although the green filter is a little overused.

It can be hard to critique acting in a movie like this when so much of the focus is on the action and visuals, but Charlize Theron and James McAvoy still manage to shine in their roles. Theron is cold, calculating, and tough but still shows brief moments of panic and sadness without being melodramatic. McAvoy is so much fun to watch in this as well; he is so good at acting goofy but still a little unhinged and sinister (as proven in Split earlier this year). My one critique is some of their line reads are hard to understand, but I’m not sure if they’re mumbling or if there’s a sound-mixing problem.
 If you’re looking for a fun, beautifully-shot action movie to see this summer, you should definitely check this out. Ignore the trolls.

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Have you seen ‘Atomic Blonde’? Well, what did you think? 

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TCFF Insider Series: KID WEST movie & my interview w/ filmmaker Jesse Mast

I first met Minnesota filmmaker Jesse Mast when he was premiering his action thriller short The Just starring Michael Madsen back in 2015 at TCFF. I then met him again at one of the TCFF after parties when I first heard him talking about the idea for Kid West.

So I was thrilled that Twin Cities Film Fest is presenting this movie as part of its INSIDER SERIES event. I’m always intrigued by the process of filmmaking, especially indie films now that I’ve dipped my toes into making my first short film. I have even more appreciation and respect for indie filmmakers and am always grateful for the opportunity to learn from them.

Synopsis:

A young spitfire cowgirl, and her coolheaded Native American friend, race a gang of neighborhood bullies to find a mysterious treasure supposedly having mystical powers.

This event will take place on
Monday, July 31 7 PM – 10 PM
The Heights Theatre

3951 Central Ave NE,
Columbia Heights, MN 55421

Go to TCFF official site for more info & to get tickets

You went from doing an action thriller to a family adventure film. What’s the inspiration behind this movie?

Somehow I knew I’ll be asked this question. The short answer is: my wife. She told me a while back, if you want to win over my heart with a movie. Give me kids or charming old people. Some movies combine them, sometimes it’s one or the other. I immediately thought about doing a Western. So I have an idea for a modern Western with kids. That started to develop a little bit. Overall what I wanted to do as a filmmaker is take the spirit of films that I love and repackage them with original characters for new audiences. So taking inspiration from Indiana Jones, Kid West was created.

So this film is basically a combination of what my wife said to me and my desire to make films that were birthed from films that I love.

So did you go on to write the script once the concept is developed? I know you worked with another writer for this film?

Yes, his name is Nick Bain. He lives in LA but originally from Minnesota. We had written another script together the year before that we thought ‘oh hopefully we’ll get to make this into a film one day’ But when that one had to be put on the shelf, I asked if he’d be willing to write Kid West with me. I don’t like writing first drafts. I’m such a perfectionist and so much has to change so I asked him, ‘hey would you consider writing the first drafts?’ He wrote a lot of really good stuff and then I went in and change what needed to change. I’m really glad we worked together on this. I find that working a script by yourself is really hard, so having him to collaborate with was really great.

How long ago did you finish the script?

The script was finalized in February 2016. Then we shot it in the Summer of 2016. So the script was totally done five months before we started shooting.

What’s the process from the time the script is finished to shooting the film? Five months doesn’t seem like a long time of pre-prod for a feature.

We did some pre-production that happened before that. The most important part is raising the funds to make this movie.

So can you talk a bit about how you raised the funds for your film?

Yeah I raised nearly all the funds (about 80%) through donations from friends and family. These are people who want to see me succeed. They’d say ‘here’s money towards your film.’ A few people gave a large gift, some are smaller. So we didn’t go through Indiegogo or Kickstarter, I mean there’s nothing wrong with those things. But I thought if I were to raise money for this, it’d be from people I know, those who believe in me. So I raised half the budget by the time the script was done. Then I knew I needed to raise the rest by the time we finished shooting. So I had raised enough to film it, to hire the actors, etc. While I was doing post production, I raised more money for that. Once the script was done, that’s when I worked on casting. Then when casting was done, then I worked on pre-production stuff.

That’s a good segue as my next question is casting. I love the young actress Mary Bair who’s the lead of your film. How did you find her?

I’m friends with a SAG actor by the name of Bruce Bohne and I went and saw him in To Kill A Mockingbird at the Guthrie in the Fall of 2015. I saw a lot of young talented actors in the play. So I ended up casting four out of the six kids in the movie from that play, including Mary, who played Scout in the play. There were a few other adult actors from there that I ended up casting as well. So anyway, Bruce was friends with Mary’s mom and I said, ‘hey can you get me in touch with her?’ So I contacted her about my interest in casting Mary in my film. I basically sat down with her and offered her the role right then and there. Seeing someone perform in something is a great audition. You just knew they could do [this role in my film] when I saw her in this play.

How about Ashley Rose Montondo? How did you come to cast her?

Ashley was also part of To Kill A Mockingbird. So Bruce, Ashley, Ansa Akyea, Regina Williams were all in this play. When I saw them perform I was like, ‘oh they’re great!’

Where was the film shot in the Twin Cities?

It’s mostly shot in the east side of the cities near Wisconsin. In a town called Bayport. Bayport is a cute little quiet town. I have a childhood friend who lives there growing up so we had some fun memories there. But I wanted the look of the film to look like what it would look like when I was growing up. I wanted a nostalgic look of a town. I tell people that Kid West is like The Sandlot meet Raiders For The Lost Ark with 12 year-old girls. So when I said The Sandlot versus The Goonies or The Little Rascals which was fun but a little silly, but The Sandlot has a lot of charm and a lot of depth. It’s not as ‘adult’ as Stand By Me, which has a lot of mature themes. Kid West is more lighthearted. But The Sandlot, you still take it seriously. You care about the people, they’re very real, very charming. It’s lighter in its tone but it’s not silly.

What do you love about making Kid West?

I like that there’s a lot of humor in Kid West. And that’s something that, after I made The Just, which I enjoyed, I like the action in it, but there’s barely any moment of levity in the whole thing. I think the audience loves to laugh. When they see a movie, they want to feel something and maybe the most they want to feel is a release of laughter. Even when I’m watching a drama, when there’s an unexpected thing that comes up, it’s always a laugh out loud moment because it gives you a breather from the seriousness. I feel like The Just didn’t have any of that, it didn’t have any breather, it’s all suspense. But with Kid West, there is suspense and moments of serious action but it’s action that made you grin y’know, and the humor is strong. I’m looking forward to the premiere and hopefully there’ll be moments of laughter from the audience.

Lastly, your film will be available in Amazon in August. What has been the challenges for you in getting distribution?

What I’ve learned about Amazon is that they try to make it very easy for independent filmmakers to get their films out to the audience. Over the last six to eight months I’ve emailed them many times, asking specific questions. They’ve been very clear, very quick in their responses. The difficulty for any independent filmmakers has always been ‘how do you get your film out? How do you make some money?’ and there are different ways to go, but when another filmmaking friend told me about Amazon, I thought it was a good idea. I mean, you don’t sell your rights to them, it doesn’t cost anything and when you submit your film, for every sale, for every rental, they split the cost 50/50. So they get half, we get half. For every stream we get a little bit of money. I would love to continue to choose Amazon in the future… I think it’s a great avenue for this, I mean everybody knows Amazon. As soon as your film is on there, you’re putting the film into someone’s pocket. They can watch it on their phone, their tablet, etc. I mean the reach is amazing.

Thanks Jesse for taking the time to chat w/ me!


FlixChatter Review: DUNKIRK (2017)

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After three super hero and two sci-fi films, Christopher Nolan is ready to tackle a war genre. Of the current well-known directors working in Hollywood today, Nolan might be the most popular among movie fans. He’s able to secure $150mil for his latest picture and he didn’t need to cast any big named stars to be appear in it.

In the summer of 1940, German forces successfully marched forward with their plan to take over Europe. Many British and French soldiers were forced to leave Dunkirk but help isn’t coming as fast they should. As the film begins, we see young British soldiers being ambushed by unseen enemies, one of them named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) was able to escape. He ran into some of his fellow soldiers named Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) and Alex (Harry Styles). They want to leave Dunkirk and will do anything to get away and avoid their commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh). We then see a civilian named Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his son make their way into Dunkirk to help rescue the soldiers. While in the air, pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) are trying to shoot down the German planes that have been dropping bombs on the soldiers and rescuing boats.

Nolan, who also wrote the film, decided to tell the story in a non-linear way. We saw three perspectives of the event, from land, air and sea. Personally, I thought the way he constructed the story is work of genius. There have been so many WWII films through the years and I’m glad to see Nolan decided to make something that really hasn’t been done before when it comes to this genre. Shooting the film in 65mm, including IMAX cameras, this is a film that needs to be seen on the biggest screen you can find. Nolan mentioned that he wants the audience to experience what those soldiers experienced and I thought he achieved that task. Since it’s based on a real event, I was worried that Nolan might glamorize the battle scenes, thankfully that didn’t happen. The action scenes were not something I would called “entertaining” but the aerial battle sequences were great to see on the big screen.

Performances were great all around. Whitehead, Barnard and Styles were believable as young soldiers and some would call them cowards. They didn’t have a lot of dialogues so their performances were mostly about body language and facial expressions. I’ve never been a soldier or seen any real battles in my life, so I don’t know how I would react if I was in their situation. Rylance, who’s always been great in the films I’ve seen him in, shines again in this one. There’s a scene where he showed raw emotion that I don’t think many actors can achieve. Hardy spent most of the film in the plane and technically he’s the “hero” of the story. Lastly, Branagh’s great as always. He conveyed a man who’s in total control even though he knew he might lose his men in any moment.

This isn’t the kind film where there are character developments and there’s no plot to speak of. Nolan wants the audience to experience the horror that happened during this event and to me he succeeded. Just like his previous film Interstellar, this one it’s being shown on various formats. Nolan’s preferred formats are 70mm IMAX or regular 70mm. If there’s a 70mm IMAX theater near where you live then I highly recommend you see it there.

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So have you seen DUNKIRK? Well, what did you think?

HEARTS WANT in the press – only hours left on Kickstarter

Ok here’s the last Kickstarter post you’ll see here… Y’know what, whatever happens I’ll be so relieved when it’s done. If you think it’s tough making a film, well, try launching a Kickstarter campaign 😉


We’re still only 75% funded with mere hours left as I’m done posting this. I’m a glass half-full kind of person so I’m extremely grateful for our backers! Of course I’m not gonna lie I’m nervous we won’t meet our goal… and if you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s an all-or-nothing campaign which means if we don’t meet our goal we’ll get nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

But hey I’m optimistic 😬 … [well what choice do I have]… and I’m super grateful for my friends who have been so supportive, both financially and also in spreading the word about my Kickstarter campaign!

THANK YOU again Paula, Shivani, MarkNostra, and Dan for your tremendous support on various social media channels!

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I was invited to be a guest on The Film Pasture podcast [thanks Vern!] Link below:


I’m also honored to be featured on Top 10 Films site run by my pal Dan Stephens [thank you Dan!]. Read on if you’re curious about my filmmaking journey…

It’s fun being on the other end of an interview once in a while 🙂


If you listen to InSession Film podcast later this week you might hear about Hearts Want there too (thanks JD Duran!)

 


Just a quick note on what I’ve been watching…

Well I managed to see War For The Planet of the Apes and I LOVED it! The three ‘Apes’ films now stands one of my favorite cinematic trilogies ever. It’s such a compelling journey of this genius ape, living in two worlds whilst trying to save its kind from extinction… it’s such a heart-wrenching, poignant story that’s strangely relatable. Definitely one of my faves of the year.

I haven’t got around to seeing DUNKIRK just yet, for sure we will next weekend. The press screening happened to hit on the day I’m meeting with my composer for the film, so obviously that takes priority.


Ok folks, I’ll be sure to post a review sometime this week (from our awesome contributor Richard of Cinemuse Films). I also have a couple of interviews with a MN-based director and a female filmmaker whose film just screened at Edinburgh Film Festival. So stay tuned!

Just days left on HEARTS WANT Kickstarter campaign

Can’t believe we’re in mid July already! Time sure flies in the Summer time… and time seems to fly even faster when one is running a Kickstarter campaign.

Yep, it’s just 9 days to go until our campaign ends folks… and we could really use your help in crossing the finish line. We are still hoping to submit this film to Twin Cities Film Fest soon to be eligible for 2017 run in October, so time is of the essence. If you’ve always wanted a chance to be a part of a female-led indie film with talented indie filmmakers and actors, this is your chance!

Watch this video from our leading man Peter Christian Hansen on why you should back our film…

Minnesota theatre goers might’ve seen Peter on stage in various productions, including at the Guthrie. He’s also the artistic director of Gremlin Theatre), as well as the leading man of the Australian indie sci-fi Project Eden whom I interviewed last February.

Did you check out the rewards yet?

On top of the automatic rewards of feeling good for being a big supporter of indie film [natch], there are also actual rewards!

My hubby and co exec-producer Ivan had been working tirelessly to make props for the film just a week prior to filming! This is NOT the film poster, but rather a poster of the play within the film that’s called Hearts Want where the lead characters Jacques & Lily reunite for after seven years apart.

Check out this time lapse video of Ivan’s poster sketch:

My hubby also created these theatre posters that’s posted on the wall of Lily’s dressing room:

Check out the various updates posted on the Kickstarter page… including meeting the mostly-female crew who were super fun to work with on and off set.

As a longtime supporter of #womeninfilm I’m extremely grateful for the chance to work with so many amazingly talented women in the Minnesota film community!


You can follow the journey of Hearts Want film on Facebook, Instagram and also Pinterest!


 

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets review

Luc Besson is not a filmmaker I would consider a favorite of mine. In fact, the last film I saw that he directed was The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc way back in 1999. Sure I’ve seen the films he produced and wrote such as the Transporter and Taken series, while I did enjoy some of those films, I would only consider them “guilty pleasures”. I was never fan of his cult favorite Leon: The Professional and I mildly enjoyed The Fifth Element. He’s now back with another big budget sci-fi adventure film that’s based on a supposedly popular French comic books; although I’ve never heard of these comics before.

Set in the 28th century, the film opens with a group of alien beings who looks kind of like the Navis from Avatar and skinny human super models, enjoying their peaceful lives on a distant planet when suddenly space ships started clashing into their lands. Then we’re introduced to a couple of very young looking humans named Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevingne). At first it looked like they’re on vacation at some remote beach but it turns out they’re special agents whose mission is to find something important and bring it back to their superiors. They met up with other agents on some planet and got in some trouble while trying to retrieve the product they were told to retrieve. Once they got what they needed, they headed to a planet that’s full of alien beings and humans living in harmony and the film spent most of its runtime on this city/planet.

If it sounds like I’m not sure what the film’s really about then you’re correct. The film has no coherent story or character development. It’s full of cool 3D effects and that’s pretty much it. Written and directed by Besson, I believe his only motivation was to make a very cool looking film and show off his 3D shooting skills. I love film that has great visual and 3D effects but I also want to see good story and interesting characters; this film contains neither. The film also lacks, of all things, good action scenes. In fact, I don’t recall any memorably action sequences at all.

I’ve never read the comic books but I assume the lead characters probably look quite different from the actors who portrayed them in the film. DeHaan and Delevingne both look like they’re 16 year olds and I find that hard to believe they’re some kind of special agents. Also, they have zero chemistry and their bantering throughout the film sounds forced. The supporting characters were also forgettable except Clive Owen, who happens to be the villain but he’s on the screen for only like 5 minutes, such a waste of his talent here.

I wanted to say something positive about this dreadful film but I couldn’t think of anything else besides the cool looking 3D effects. It’s one of the most excruciating films I’ve sat through. I would highly recommend you stay away from it.

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So have you seen Valerian? Well, what did you think?

Week In Review: A comedic play, Spider-man Homecoming and podcasting

How’s your weekend everyone? Well it’s been quite a whirlwind week for me, but a fun one nonetheless. I didn’t get an extra day off for Fourth of July, but still a four-day work week is better than five 🙂

I did manage to see a fun play on Friday night, a French farce called Don’t Dress For Dinner. It’s actually the opening night of the theatre company run by my lead actor Peter Hansen, in which he also starred in with five other actors.


I also got to see one of its rehearsals last week which was really fun to see. I had never been to a play rehearsal before and the fact that it’s a comedy is even more delightful to watch. Oh as if I hadn’t been busy enough w/ my film AND Kickstarter campaign, I also helped redesign his theatre website. (yep I need a vacation real bad!)

Saturday was a hot day, so after a scorching afternoon going to Art Crank in NE Minneapolis, we cooled off watching the new Spidey flick.

I have to admit I wasn’t all that enthused to see this so if it wasn’t for my hubby’s insistence, I probably would’ve waited for its VOD release. Fortunately it ends up being a pretty decent flick which is NOT an origin story, thank goodness!

It’s fun to see Peter Parker being a proper teenager and Tom Holland is perfectly believable in the role. Some of the banters between him and his BFF Ned (Jacob Batalon) seems too cutesy with all the ‘awesome’ which at times doesn’t ring true. But as the film progressed it didn’t bother me and they do have some fun memorable moments. Our young’un hero is far more eager to be a hero than in past interpretations but I’m glad actually gets to do something heroic and does it on his own account.

I hadn’t paid much attention to this film so I was pleasantly surprised to see Michael Keaton as the villain. He’s definitely one of the best villains in the plethora of Spidey movies I’ve seen over the years. My fave is still Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) from Sam Raimi’s Spider-man 2 and Keaton’s Adrian Toomes is right up there with him. I like villains who are more of a tragic character, not an all-out monster hellbent on destroying the world. I enjoyed watching Keaton as a cross between Batman and Birdman when he’s wearing the birdlike costume, but his character actually has some depth. There’s also a pretty bizarre father-daughter storyline here that I did not see coming.

The movie starts out pretty light, Peter’s fanboy-ing over Tony Stark also gets overdone, but the movie actually grows darker with a genuine sense of dread. I am however quite puzzled by the hype over Zendaya in this movie. Not because her acting wasn’t good but her character barely registers here to even make any impact. Yes I appreciate that she’s not just another love interest but I wish the slew of writers actually gave her something to do. The movie does hint that she perhaps will have a larger role in the inevitable sequels.

Despite me feeling blasé about this reboot, this movie ends up being pretty enjoyable. There are a couple of thrilling action sequences though the finale is still way too loud & bombastic. Casting-wise, Holland fits the role nicely and he seems to have fun doing it. There are fun moments of Peter poking fun at members of the Avengers which is in keeping with him being a 15-year-old kid. It was pretty fun seeing Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and his chauffeur/personal assistant ‘Happy’ (Jon Favreau) as part of the story too. I’m not exactly clamoring to see more of Spidey movies though, but I suppose if they gotta make ’em at least they don’t suck.


The weekend is topped off w/ my first time doing a podcast! It was fun being a guest for an episode of The Film Pasture, hosted by my friend Vern from Vern’s Video Vortex with film blogger Kristen Lopez. Vern was kind enough to invite me to discuss our picks of Top 5 Female Filmmakers and let me promote my short film Hearts Want which I can proudly say has a strong woman of color in the lead and done by a mostly-female crew.

I will post the podcast here once it’s up. As you know I’m a big supporter of women filmmakers and having just written/produced my first film, naturally I have even more respect for those who’ve made it in the male-dominated film industry.


Well, did you see anything good this weekend? If you’ve seen the newest Spider-man movie, what did you think?

Weekend Roundup: Quick review of BABY DRIVER (2017)

Happy [almost] Fourth of July weekend! It’s not really a long weekend for me as I’ll be working both Monday AND Wednesday, though the office is pretty much dead today with everyone taking a day off.

Last week was a pretty hectic one, hence I hadn’t even posted anything other than my short film update. Well, as if making movies wasn’t nerve wracking enough, I also launched a crowdfunding campaign is Kickstarter campaign last week. We had a good start but we still have a long way to go before we reach our goal.

Shout out to Paula, Shivani, Mark, and Nostra for your tremendous support on various social media channels!

This weekend I did manage to fit in a movie night… and it was a ton of fun!

Move over Guardians of the Galaxy. I think the movie w/ the best retro soundtrack this year belongs to Baby Driver. It’s also one helluva heist action flick that gets your blood pumpin’ from start to finish.

I like Edgar Wright and his Three Flavours Cornetto film trilogy (especially Hot Fuzz!) but for some reason I haven’t been paying much attention to Baby Driver. I think I only read an article a while back when it was a hit at SXSW and then of course I was intrigued by the stellar reviews (97% on Rotten Tomatoes!) So naturally I had a high expectations going into this movie. Fortunately it didn’t disappoint!

I dig car chases!! I grew up w/ two brothers and played with matchbox cars instead of Barbie dolls as a kid so I always enjoy a thrilling car chase in the movies! Man, what an opening scene!! You can watch how they made it in this featurette. That’s perhaps one of the best car chases since the first Transporter flick, but this time we’ve got a kid at the wheel with a cutesy name Baby (Ansel Elgort). Yep it’s B-A-B-Y. Hence the title.

It’s obvious Wright himself is a big fan of heist movies and crazy car chases, and it shows. He’s also got an ear for music, and music is truly the fuel for this exciting ride. You go see this for the action, but there’s also a pretty compelling story and a character worth rooting for. Elgort isn’t the most charismatic young actor but he acquits himself well here and it’s easy to root for Baby who’s had a tragic past and wants out of the crime business. He’s surrounded by a fun supporting cast: Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, and Lily James as Baby’s love interest. I’d say it’s quite inspired casting, especially in regards to Jon Hamm. The romance between Lily and Ansel seems deliberately too cutesy, cheesy even, but it’s kind of sweet, too.

In a way, Baby Driver is a heist flick & coming-of-age movie in one. And that makes it refreshingly original, as we see this kid who gets picked on and taken advantage of finally breaking free and coming into his own. The rather restrained ending is quite a pleasant surprise to me given how many blockbusters seem to go for deafeningly-bombastic finale.

So if you’re in the mood for fun music, crazy action and some sweet little romance, you can’t go wrong with Baby Driver.This movie’s also got heart to go with all the cool moves. And of course, plenty of Wright’s cheeky brand of humor too.

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Have you seen ‘BABY DRIVER’? Well, what did you think? 

A film blogger’s journey into indie filmmaking – writing/producing ‘Hearts Want’ short film

It’s been forty plus years in the making. No, no, it didn’t take me 40 years to write the script, though if I had written something as an infant I might’ve been a literary genius by now.

Some of you know my life’s been consumed by my short film project lately. Well, I had just launched the Kickstarter campaign to help fund the film, so I thought I’d share the journey of how I got here…

It feels as though I’ve been wanting to make a film for as long as I remember. Even in grade school, whenever the recurrent question ‘what do you want to be when we grow up?’ came up, I always proudly answered that I wanted to be a screenwriter. Yep, even long before I knew what a screenwriter was! For some reason, I had always had this longing to follow my late dad’s footsteps, who worked in the Indonesian film industry long before I was born.

Life has an interesting way of working out. So no, I didn’t end up going to film school or anything remotely close to it. I had been a longtime film fan, but I didn’t even start blogging about film until well after I graduated college. Little did I know that this wee film blog finally led me to realize my lifelong dream!

How it all began…

Thanks largely to Twin Cities Film Fest and being a press member with a couple of PR companies, as a film blogger I had the privilege to interview various indie filmmakers. There’s nothing more gratifying and inspiring to learn from filmmakers who love making films and passionate about the craft. Whilst blogging about film, I’ve also been writing all kinds of film concepts, but nothing has been fully fleshed out until the one I started writing about a year and a half ago…

The journey of making Hearts Want truly has been a whirlwind… and it’s not over yet.

So yeah, the reading became the catalyst for this short. I still can’t believe how far we’ve come since the script reading back in January… and how well the two-day shoot went despite barely having any pre-prod time. When people say your first film is made w/ your blood, sweat and tears… well they aren’t kidding. This is a passion project w/ a capital ‘p’ and it’s a personal one for both Ivan and I. My hubby is not only the exec producer, he’s also a prop master, stage hand, behind-the-scenes photographer, video editor (for our Kickstarter video)… all that on top of juggling his full-time day job and lending emotional support during the most stressful times of making a film.

The people who’ve inspired me…

As I mentioned in my Kickstarter page, I’ve been a long champion of #WomenInFilm and am constantly inspired by female filmmakers who’ve thrived in a male-dominated industry… powerful filmmakers such as these…

and this…

I’ve also been blessed with meeting fellow directors in person whose work have inspired me… Emily Ting who directed Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong, Ashlee Jensen who co-wrote/directed Project Eden Vol I, Pamela Romanowsky who directed The Adderral Diaries, Rebecca Weaver who wrote/directed June Falling Down, and Kate Nowlin who wrote and starred in Blood Stripe, just to name a few. (Also shout out to Remy Auberjonois, Kate’s husband and Blood Stripe‘s director who narrated my script reading! I’m forever grateful to them for having inspired me to finally take the leap and make my first film!

My own film also wouldn’t have been made without the help of my two producer friends, Kirsten Gregerson and JoJo Liebeler

With Kirsten & JoJo at the script reading in January

… as well as my two amazingly-talented leads Sam Simmons and Peter Christian Hansen who’ve stuck by me despite all the various setbacks during pre-production…

I also have to thank Noah Gillett, another actor from the script reading who also reprised his role in the film.

… and of course, my phenomenal MN-based crew!! Thanks Jason & co! Check out the bio of our cast/crew on Hearts Want‘s IMDb page.

I also want to shout out to people who’ve lent support during filming, from helping with the company move, catering, being extras and help with networking, etc. I appreciate you Noah Gillett, Shawn Dunbar, Becky Kurk, Dani Palmer, Emily Fradenburgh, Whitney Khan, Holly Peterson, and Briana Rose Lee.

Special thanks to my dear friends Julie Tan and Vony Bedford for coming to set and be extras on day 1. Vony’s cutie-pie daughter Chloe is ‘Brigitte’ in the film (you’ll see who she is when you watch it) 😉

But the journey isn’t over yet…

If you’re familiar at all with the filmmaking process, principal photography is only half the battle. As I learned in my crash course, filmmaking is always more difficult and more expensive than you ever thought it would.

So yeah, consider helping us cross the finish line, even if it’s just helping spread the word that would mean a lot to us. The ultimate goal is still to make a feature film of Hearts Want, so if you help support us now, you’d also help bring us closer to making that huge-but-not-impossible dream a reality! 😀

Would you consider making a pledge or spread the word about the campaign?

 

Guest Review: The Zookeeper’s Wife (2016)

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Directed By: Niki Caro
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Daniel Brühl
Runtime: 2 hr 7 minutes

The diversity of Holocaust-themed movies has increased over recent years as filmmakers try different storytelling approaches to keep alive our collective memory of what happened. One film that has divided the critics is The Zookeeper’s Wife (2016). While most of this genre uses graphic realism to confront large-scale human carnage and moral dystopia, this beautifully filmed story tells how 300 Jewish lives were saved by the owners of the Warsaw Zoo.

The film opens in 1939 with stunning photography of an idyllic existence in the charming Warsaw Zoo. Owners Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) are devoted zoologists who love their animals and each other. There are many touching scenes of physical affection that portray trust and understanding across the human-animal divide. The peace is soon shattered by Nazi bombing and there are many disturbing scenes of animal destruction. Soon after the Nazis arrive, the Zoo’s best breeding specimens are sent to Berlin under Hitler’s zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl). With Nazi soldiers needing housing, the Zoo is under threat but saved when Antonina obtains Heck’s support to convert it into a pig farm to feed Nazi soldiers. He becomes a frequent visitor to the Zoo and his sexual overtures towards Antonina means she must keep him charmed to save the Zoo. As the atrocities against Polish Jews escalate, Antonina and Jan hatch a plan to use garbage trucks to smuggle Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to freedom via Zoo tunnels. The story focuses on the dangers of hiding the Jews and the horror facing those who are loaded into cattle-trucks for transportation to Hitler’s Final Solution.

The critical ambivalence towards this film dwells on its aesthetic treatment of the opening scenes and what some argue is Chastain’s saintly characterisation of Antonina. While the cinematography is superb from beginning to end, it does adopt an excessively sugary style in the pre-Nazi-occupation part of the story. The opening scenes of Antonina cycling through the zoo, personally greeting the caged and free-roaming animals, smiling and waving to all of humanity, are both beautiful but incongruous for the story we know is about to unfold. From the extraordinary scenes of Antonina saving a new-born elephant in front of its distressed parents to the harrowing escape scenes, the film almost deifies the heroine for her goodness towards others. But these are directing issues rather than acting. Chastain’s performance is excellent across the range of emotions she portrays and she is a glowing beacon of light in a film that could easily have been depressingly bleak.

The Zookeepers Wife is a worthy addition to an honourable genre that includes the multi-award winning Schindler’s List (1993). It communicates the larger Holocaust narrative while keeping its carnage and dystopia off-screen. In an age of audience desensitisation, it is ironic that viewers can be emotionally touched more deeply by the death of animals than humans. This is a story of courage and triumph, told from a woman’s viewpoint, with top-tier production values in filming, acting, and narrative. It is also an important part of Polish history. Antonina and Jan were decorated as national heroes and the re-built Warsaw Zoo still stands as a legacy to their achievements.

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cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘The Zookeper’s Wife’? Well, what did you think?