TCFF Day 7 reviews: The Liability, Casual Encounters, How I Live Now

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Now that TCFF has wrapped, I’ll be posting some reviews from the last few days of the film fest, as well as which films won the TCFF Awards which was announced last night. Glad to see some of my personal favorites getting nominated. You can check out the list here.

Now here are some films from Day 7 that are worth checking out:

How I Live Now

by Ruth Maramis

I have not heard about this film until it was announced as a TCFF lineup. I was immediately drawn to it because of Saoirse Ronan who’s been excellent in everything I’ve seen her in so far. This time it’s no different. In this film adaptation of novel by Meg Rosoff, Ronan plays an angst-y American teenager Daisy, who reluctantly goes to spend her Summer vacation with her cousin in an English countryside. Once she’s there, the rural house is in complete mess as her four cousins, Isaac (Tom Holland), Piper (Harley Bird), Edmond “Eddie” (George MacKay) pretty much had to look after themselves as their mom is involved in a mysterious project, something about the ‘peace process,’ who’s quickly whisked to Geneva, never to be seen again.

What starts out as an idyllic vacation, complete with picnic, lake-swimming, and a blossoming teen romance between Daisy and Eddie, life is soon turned upside down for them as war suddenly broke out, seemingly out of nowhere. Whilst there are hints along the way that of what looks to be a World War III scenario, from news footage on TV, signs of military presence, etc., when nuke effect “snow” from a London nuclear attack falling on them, it still came as quite a surprise. As the country descend into a violent and chaotic military state, Daisy is given a chance to return to America, but yet she chooses to stay with Eddie.

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The last half of the film becomes a journey for survival story as Daisy and Piper flee a forced-labor camp through the woods. The pacing of the film drags at times, and I find the film’s relentlessly-allusive storyline a bit frustrating. I like a good mystery but somehow this film felt more elusive than truly suspenseful. I also feel like the chemistry between the characters a bit lacking. The romance is far from gripping and the pairing of Daisy and Piper also didn’t quite mesh well, though both actors did a good job. Thus I didn’t feel as emotionally-involved with the characters as I otherwise would.

I do think the premise is intriguing though, and there’s enough going for it here that kept me engaged. The tone is dark and pretty grim, especially the last third of the film, with some gruesome doomsday scenes that warrants its R rating. Just like she did in Hanna, Ronan pretty much carried the film here and she’s more than capable. She easily outshines everyone else in this film, though Harley Bird as Piper has some scene-stealing moments. The cinematography is gorgeous as well, giving us a stark contrast between the serene and lush pastoral beauty and the sinister apocalyptic views of a doomed future.

As far as young adult stories go though, this one is certainly far more compelling than other ‘supernaturally-themed’ offerings out there. I quite like the hopeful but not ‘too neat’ ending, though some might feel it’s a bit anti-climactic. It could’ve been a bit more compelling, especially coming from director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play), but I’d say it’s worth a rent though if you’re a fan of the talents involved.

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Casual Encounters

by Adam Wells

Casual Encounters is an anthology film about people who meet other people online for a casual night of love. The movie shows five different people’s experience with a casual encounter and they do intertwine as some characters show up in multiple storylines. The film is really 5 short films and in some cases they have been shown separately in some cases but Casual Encounters has them shown altogether.

The movie has excellent performances all around, the actors and actresses in this film handle the maturity of the content of this nature. In particular the character of Eric who is the only one to appear in three storylines including his own, his character has many levels of depth to him as his life is a bit complicated. Eric is portrayed by Aaron Mathias (who was also the star of Things I Don’t Understand which premiered at TCFF last year), and he is definitely an actor to keep on your radar.

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The movie has many settings that take place at night, but despite that the cinematography is done very well, while also different color palettes for lighting in each story’s setting. As each story differs in its nature of intimacy and sexual orientation, the colors of the lighting seem to change, and that shows the producers and director really thought through the composition of the shots wanted the viewer to associate certain colors with certain interactions, as Eric’s story is the final one in the film and has multiple settings as opposed to the other stories that have one or two.

Overall, Casual Encounters is an excellent film and comes highly recommended due to its amazing performances, elaborate world it creates with intertwining storylines, and its content that is usually not shown in films. The film plays against the viewers expectations as it has romantic movie plots but they don’t play out as most romantic movie plots usually play out, which is always pleasant to see.
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The Liability

by Sarah Johnson

A movie with good plot twists that also wraps up all the loose ends by the time the credits roll? The Liability, the new crime tale directed by Craig Viveiros and written by John Wrathall, does just that. It stars Tim Roth as Roy, a world weary hit man who only wants to retire so he can attend his daughter’s wedding, and Jack O’Connell as Adam, the 19 year old stepson of Roy’s gangster boss Peter (Peter Mullan). When Adam wrecks Peter’s car he gives him a job of becoming Roy’s driver as a way to work off his debt. “It’s either that or the septic tank,” Peter says.
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Of course things don’t go according to plan. A bizarre string of events involve a girl, a hippie van and the true reason Adam was paired with Roy. Suffice it to say, when I heard a nearby audience member gasp at one of the plot twists, I knew the filmmakers had done their job. Casting Tim Roth in one of the starring roles was a good choice as his wry acting style is a good mix with the sexy edginess of the movie. (“I haven’t killed a woman since 1983,” he proclaims.)
The one thing I found slightly lacking was the chemistry between O’Connell and Roth- it would have been nice to see them play off each other more. Some might say the movie is a little too by-the-book in wrapping it up at the end. I appreciate movies that keep you guessing as well but is walking out of the theatre feeling like you understood everything so wrong?

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So that about wraps up our Day 7 reviews. Any thoughts about any of these films?

TCFF Roundup – Part 1 – A Late Quartet, Things I Don’t Understand & Problem Solving the Republic Reviews

Whew, this week has been quite a whirlwind! I saw a total of 13 films and attended four educational panels in the last nine days. Most of the films have been good to excellent, so even with a couple I didn’t really enjoy, it’s still a nearly a perfect record.

TCFF certainly has a super packed schedule all the way down to the homestretch. The nine-day film fest has come to a close last night with LUMPY, the Minnesota-shot dramedy by MN-born writer/director Ted Koland, starring Justin Long and Addison Timlin who were present at the panel earlier in the day. I didn’t get a chance for a one-on-one interview with Long, though I did meet briefly with Ted Koland and congratulated him on his film.

Justin Long & Ted Koland at the LUMPY panel – photo by James Ramsay

Below is a recap and review from Friday,

FRIDAY

Saw two very good films today, they couldn’t be any more different from each other yet both have intriguing stories about people dealing and coping with a dark chapter in their lives.

Things I Don’t Understand

Written/directed by David Spaltro and starring Minnesota-born Molly Ryman. I was very impressed with the character-driven story and also Molly’s excellent performance. June and I had the pleasure of interviewing David to talk about his film and also listened to Molly talk about her character Violet during the ‘Strong Women in Independent Films’ panel.

Thanks to David for sitting down with June and I at the ShowPlace ICON lounge to give us some insights about his film. Check out the full interview.

Meeting both David and Molly are easily one of the highlights of covering the film fest for me. David told me TCFF is the 16th point of their film tour all over the country, going to one film festival to the next. In fact, right after the panel, David was off to the airport to the the Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita Kansas. They’re both so talented with so much going for them in their careers, yet they’re so down to earth and so fun to talk to.

Congrats to both David and Molly on the success of Things I Don’t Understand. Here’s my review of the film:

This film centers on grad student Violet who’s studying near-death experiences which led her to actually attempt suicide. After her failed suicide attempt, Violet becomes withdrawn and somewhat morose, plus she also has to deal with being evicted from the Brooklyn loft she shares with her two roommates. At the advise of her therapist, Violet reluctantly visits a terminally ill girl in a hospice and their unlikely friendship becomes her catharsis to start appreciating life again.

I sympathize with Violet right away though she’s not exactly likable at first. She’s sardonic and lacks self control, but you know deep down she’s a good girl. Spaltro frames her story well and surrounds her with interesting characters. Her two room mates, artist Gabby (Melissa Hampton) and a gay French rocker Remy (Hugo Dillon) also have personal issues of their own, but you could say they’re the comic relief of the movie. And then there’s the cute but mysterious bartender Parker (Aaron Mathias) who befriends Violet but refuses her advances.

It’s intriguing to watch Violet’s journey throughout the film, how her relationships with Parker and Sara (Grace Folsom) who’s dying from bone cancer changes her as the film progresses. Despite the dark theme though, director David Spaltro peppers the film with fun and lighthearted moments, so it’s definitely not a complete downer.

Like many of us who seek to figure out the basic questions of the meaning of life and what happens when we die, it’s certainly a thought provoking film that David has explored with care. One thing though, I feel like the themes of faith and spirituality aren’t explored as deep as I’d like, it merely scratches the surface and lacking conviction. That said, I appreciate that it’s at least being talked about and I’m also thrilled that David has crafted a compelling and multi-layered female character in Violet, something we need to see more in Hollywood.

I’m not surprised that this film has been winning all kinds of awards in various film festivals. It’s a bummer that somehow the movie appears very dark in the theater screens, as the cinematography in NYC looks beautiful. The day after the film screening, David told me that it wasn’t supposed to be so dark, and he gave me access to re-watch the film again.

Kudos to David once again and to Molly and Grace for their affecting performances. The scenes between Violet and Sara are very moving without resorting to overt sentimentality. I look forward to David’s upcoming film Wake Up in New York, hopefully it’ll be shown at TCFF again!

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A Late Quartet

When people think of Christopher Walken and Philip Seymour Hoffman‘s films this year, they’re likely going to think of Seven Psychopath and The Master, but I’m glad I’m able to see both of them together in this smaller independent drama. The story centers on members of the world-renowned string quartet Fugue, comprised of Peter (Walken), Robert (Hoffman), Juliette (Catherine Keener) and Daniel (Mark Ivanir). Soon we learn that the oldest member of the group, Peter, is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which inevitably shakes the group in ways none of them could imagine.

In the wake of Peter’s medical revelation, the rest of the members deals with their own turmoil. Robert and Juliette faces a marital stride due to infidelity, on top of Robert’s pent-up rivalry with Daniel, as he’s no longer content with being the second violinist. To make matters worse, Daniel suddenly discovers his once-repressed passion involving a romance that certainly brings even more complication to the already-fragile group. One thing for sure though, the group wants to stay together as Fugue has been an integral part of their lives for more than 20 years.

This is director Yaron Zilberman‘s first feature film and what a great venue to display the fantastic acting prowess of the talents involved. Nice to see Walken in an understated role, he’s the most ‘normal’ guy in the group (imagine that), but he plays his part brilliantly. Hoffman’s role is much more explosive as Robert deals with unbridled ego and lust that threatens to break his marriage. Keener is always wonderful to watch, she definitely has the elegance and grace to play Juliette though her character is the most enigmatic of the four to me. Last but not least, the Ukranian actor Ivanir also plays his part of the über perfectionist violinist who’s been so obsessed with his music that he hasn’t had time for love. Imogen Poots has quite a memorable part as Hoffman & Keener’s daughter, she definitely holds her own against her much older, more experienced co-stars. Her scene with Keener in particular is quite gut-wrenching.

Though both contains beautiful classical music and also has a similar name, A Late Quartet is quite different in tone from Dustin Hoffman’s Quartet. This one feels like it’s got more depth in terms of character development and deals with such raw emotional situations that stays with you long after the credits. It shows that beneath such flawlessly-played music, there are real and flawed people behind them, struggling through change and relationships like the rest of us. It’s a compelling picture of humanity, and it’s such a treat for the senses not only for the musical arrangements, but also the lovely cinematography. I adore the gorgeous scenery of New York City in the Winter time, everything just looks so romantic! I highly recommend this for any fan of the actors involved, I sure hope this won’t get lost in the shuffle when it opens in limited release sometime in November.

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Problem Solving the Republic

Unfortunately I couldn’t see this one as it’s showing at the same time as A Late Quartet, but I’ll definitely try to see it when it’s available on VOD. It’s a Minnesota production and shot on location in Minneapolis, even just looking at the bizarre genre-bending tagline made me curious enough to see it. You can check out the TCFF interview with writer/director Elliot Diviney on TCFF Youtube Channel.

Below is the review by Emery Thoresen:

Problem Solving the Republic is a Minnesota-made political satire, that uses musical numbers and slap stick humor to tell its story. The humor turned out to be more entertaining commentary than knee slapping jokes. The movie had a charm akin to the campy-horror-movie genre, in that it isn’t for everyone, or, it doesn’t try to appeal to everyone, but viewers who do subscribe to the genre will have a good time watching this. It reminded me of Super, both movies incorporated  superheroes and animated inserts – like a comic book. They both share a similar sense of humor, but Problem Solving the Republic isn’t nearly as violent, super natural, or sad as the Rainn Wilson feature.

I started to get restless in the last couple minutes, it could have been because I had been seeing so many films all day, but it was more likely due to how long it took to wrap the story up. Overall it was a charming movie, the bloopers before the credits were memorable, along with the snap shots of the cast that rolled with the credits. I really enjoyed the characters and actors they chose.

During the discussion afterwards, the director and producer talked about the difficulties they encountered in creating a local film with a small budget, in less than a year. Through their brief explanation they kept pointing to people and mentioning names of contributors, it turned out that a surprising number of people in the audience have had a hand in making this film – which made the laughter and reactions much more genuine.

The TCFF was the premiere, it will be showing at The Riverview Theater in November, but in the mean time pre-ordering a copy online is always an option. Remember, it is always good to support local talent, and this could be a warm-up to election day.

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Check out the trailer below:


Stay tuned for Part II with reviews of Saturday films
and also my Top Five Favorites from the film fest!


Thoughts on any of the films above? Well, I’d love to hear it!