In-flight Watching Recap: The Wedding Guest + The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley

Thank goodness for in-flight entertainment! I was on a trip to Eastern Europe recently, in fact I just got back about a week ago. Sleep are often elusive on long flights, so I used the time to catch up on movies I’ve been curious to see.

I rewatched parts of Aladdin on my way to Europe and on my way back, I watched most of Gone With The Wind (yeah I know, an odd choice but I was in the mood for it). But these are two features I watched that I haven’t seen before, glad I did!

THE WEDDING GUEST (2018)

I’ve been a fan of Dev Patel for some time, and I think he’s really grown as an actor since his debut in Slumdog Millionaire over a decade ago. When you’ve got a brooding hitman-type on a mission to kidnap a bride-to-be the night before her wedding, you don’t immediately think of Patel. But that’s precisely why I’m curious to see him here, and I think he’s quite compelling playing against type. In most of his previous films (well except for LION) he’s often the jolly guy, but he barely cracked a smile in this entire film!

Directed by Michael Winterbottom, the opening sequence shows the unnamed Patel preparing for a journey from London to Pakistan. We have no idea what’s on his agenda, but with a sequence of buying guns, roll of duct tape, etc. we know he’s up to no good. It wouldn’t be a spoiler to say that indeed he indeed kidnaps the bride-to-be (Radhika Apte), but there’s more than meets the eye. In fact, the core of the film centers on their unconventional bond. It’s not stockholm syndrome however, as we don’t quite know who actually plans for the whole thing.

The movie itself is as reserved and moody as the protagonist. The neo-noir style is enhanced by the music (that’s reminiscent of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s style) and gorgeous cinematography, making the most of the India/Pakistan locations. I know the pacing might be a problem to some, but I was quite invested in the story as the movie went on. Even watching it on the plane, I wasn’t bored by it. I find Patel to be a magnetic presence, and a pretty convincing enigmatic figure. But it’s Apte who’s quite a revelation here, and it’s certainly a juicy role for a woman of color who rarely gets to turn the table on the male protagonist.

It’s too bad the film didn’t do well after its premiere at TIFF. I highly recommend this if you’re a fan of Patel, or if you’re up for an off-the-beaten path psychological thriller that’s more about the character development than a well-choreographed action sequence.

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley (2019)

I’m glad Delta has this Alex Gibney documentary as I don’t have HBO. I’ve been curious about this film since I read a lengthy article about Theranos’ founder Elizabeth Holmes, the youngest self-made billionaire who turns out to be a fraud. Apparently the film’s producer met with Holmes early in development (per IMDb), before criminal charges were filed, to determine whether she could be interviewed for the film. Gibney decided to portray how Holmes crafted her company and her own image seen by the public, which is inherently fascinating. Holmes herself is perhaps a documentarian’s dream given how controversial yet magnetic she is, it’s no wonder she was able to fool so many prominent figures to invest in her company (Walmart founder Sam Walton, Rupert Murdoch, etc) and people like Henry Kissinger, George Schultz to be on her company’s board.

Gibney’s documentaries are extremely well-crafted and this one is no different. There are plenty of archival footage of Holmes and the miniature blood testing labs she dubbed the “Edisons” in the Theranos Palo Alto headquarters. Most were taken before she was charged, and some were from Theranos’ own promotional videos. Interestingly enough, we learn that ‘Edison’ is actually a perfect moniker for her blood testing machine, given the man known as one of America’s greatest inventors perfected the ‘fake it until you make it’ mantra. In any case, there are also interviews with whistleblowers, such as former Theranos lab technician Erika Cheung and Tyler Schultz (his grandfather was one of the board members). Of course, the one crucial interview is with John Carreyrou, The Wall Street Journal journalist who first accused Theranos of misrepresentation.

This is the kind of documentary that makes you shake your head repeatedly and also gets you riled up on how someone could deceive people and be allowed to do so for so long. One can’t help but think of her ‘white privilege’ upbringing that contributes to this whole thing, as so many important people were so easily swayed by her claims and willing to help her without investigating further. It also gives me chills how she went so far as making a deal with Walgreens with her blood testing procedures that compromises many people’s health.

Gibney is quoted on IMDb as saying “She made the documentary she wanted me to invest in and I used it to a different purpose.” While he didn’t outright condemn Holmes for her actions, it’s hard to feel neutral about such a fraud, especially one who’s as arrogant and defiant as Holmes.


So have you seen either one of these films? I’d love to hear what you think!

TCFF 2014 Day 7: Romance Double Bill – Old Fashioned & Comet

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We’re on the final stretch of the film fest and Day 7 is one of the three busiest days for me, with back-to-back screenings. It’s been fun [and challenging too, I’m not gonna lie] wearing multiple hats as blogger/film critic/journalist the past few days. But I’m so grateful that everyone I’ve met so have have been so friendly and gracious, it’s really been quite an exhilarating experience and that’s why I keep blogging for the film fest!

So last Wednesday, I got to see one excellent documentary and two romance dramas of opposite spectrum. Speaking of documentaries, I will be combining all the doc reviews all in one post after TCFF wraps.


And here are the reviews from Day 7 …

Old Fashioned

The idea behind Old Fashioned may seem foreign to a lot people today (including to the filmmaker himself at some point), but depending on your world view, it’s certainly not an improbable notion. The title refers to an antique shop in a small Midwestern college town, owned by a former frat boy Clay Walsh (Rik Swartzwelder). One Autumn day, a young woman named Amber Hewson (Elizabeth Ann Roberts) happens to drive into the town. Apparently it’s [her] tradition that wherever her car runs out gas, that’ll be the town she’ll stay in, at least until she has to move again. And so she ends up renting an apartment right above Clay’s shop.

OldFashioned_AmberClay and Amber couldn’t be more different. Clay with his permanently-tousled blond hair is taciturn and a loner, whilst the beautiful Amber is free-spirited and outgoing. Sparks didn’t exactly fly in their first meeting, but there’s definitely a hint of attraction. As it turns out, Clay has pretty much been living a monk-like existence for the past nine years, much to Amber’s bafflement. When he comes up to her room to fix her broken stove, Clay insists that she stands outside the door with a blanket. “It’s not normal,” she balks at Clay’s unyielding rules and relational theories. Perhaps more out of curiosity than physical attraction, Amber sort of *pursues* Clay by continually breaking stuff in her apartment just so he’d have to come up to her apartment. Eventually Clay agrees to go out with her, but only if she agrees with his terms.

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I gotta admit that I think Clay is a bit extreme in his approach to relationships. In a way, Amber is kind of the voice of the audience as she asks the same thing we would if we were to meet someone like him. So as Amber discovers more about Clay – and vice versa – the film peels the layer of both of their past. Clay had spent his college days sowing his wild oats, whilst Amber had been traumatized by her past relationships that her first inclination is always to run away. For Clay, his heap amount of guilt pushes his ideological pendulum to swing so far the other way that he practically sabotages his own chance at true happiness. I like that the film didn’t paint the protagonist as some high & mighty hero who’s got everything figured out. Clay and Amber are flawed characters we can all identify with and the film shows just how fragile relationships can be without even mixing sexuality into it.

The film doesn’t shy away from the faith elements, showing scenes and conversation about Christianity and the Bible, but they’re not done in a preachy manner. In my conversation with writer/director/star Rik Swartzwelder, he mentioned that he wasn’t interested in a faith propaganda story, but he was inspired by people he knew whose stories become the concept for the film. And so the spirituality element is organic to the characters and intrinsic to the story.

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The film’s beautifully shot on location in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, by David George. There’s a rustic quality to the entire film, the whole vintage look is a nod to a bygone era, both literally and philosophically speaking. Most of the supporting cast feature local actors which adds to the authentic Midwestern sensibilities. My favorite is definitely Dorothy Silver as aunt Zella who’s been trying to get Clay to lighten up and let go of his guilt. LeJon Woods as Clay’s BFF is a lot of fun to watch as well, both of them are the comic relief of the film. But the revelatory star is definitely Elizabeth Ann Roberts who has an effortless screen charisma and sweet vulnerability about her that makes her perfect for the role. I’m glad Swartzwelder ended up casting her after months of searching, and Amber is truly the heart of the story. I think the characters are nicely fleshed out, though it’s a bit tough for to picture such a serene fellow like Clay that he was a reckless womanizer, as the film barely show flashbacks of their past.

The ending is perhaps too fairy-tale-ish, but I can’t help being swept-off my feet by the film’s undeniable charm. I can even forgive some of the schmaltzy moments that drag on a bit, so I think the 115-min running time could’ve been slightly trimmed down. Overall I’m impressed by Swartzwelder‘s feature film debut, it’s an enchanting romance drama I’d readily watch again.

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Comet

It’s interesting to see Old Fashioned and Comet back to back as both deal with romantic themes and both are feature film debuts from its respective directors. Their styles and approach to romance couldn’t be more different however.

Set in a parallel universe, the film bounces back and forth over the course of a couple’s six year’s relationship. Dell (Justin Long) and Kimberly (Emmy Rossum) met as they were lining up for a meteor shower watch at a college campus. It’s kind of a quirky meet-cute, as Kimberly saves Dell from being hit by a car. It prompted Dell to ask Kimberly out right in front of her handsome date (Eric Winter). Dell is honest and verbose to a fault, saying everything that pops in his head unapologetically. The constant bantering is amusing and frustrating at the same time, and the film pretty much consist of monologues and conversations of the two leads.

Comet_EmmyRossum_JustinLongThe unconventional time jumps employed here feels a bit gimmicky at times, though fortunately I don’t find it as confusing as I thought I would. The bantering alternates turns to bickering and a screaming match in certain period of their lives, and both actors perform their roles wonderfully. Emmy Rossum impressed me in her stunning performance in The Phantom Of The Opera a decade ago, she barely aged a day it seems. Justin Long shows that he certainly has range, and his dramatic performance here is as convincing as his goofy, comedic side. They’re both very natural and believable in their roles, and to me that’s the strength of the film to keep me engaged.

The film plays with meta theory of dream vs reality but yet never quite shifts into sci-fi fantasy mode. I have to say though, the overly-stylized way the film is shot, with its transition and fancy camera angles, feels experimental to me. I’m not saying I didn’t like it, in fact I think the film’s cinematography is gorgeous. But at times it just feels a bit indulgent, it’s as if Sam Esmail is showing off his directing chops when a less edgier style would perhaps work just as well here. The ending also ends abruptly and though I don’t mind open-ended stories, this one just felt half-baked to me. It also doesn’t help that I simply couldn’t connect with any of the characters.

Still, I think the concept is interesting, which makes me wonder why this film was barely promoted by the studio. I mean there’s not even a trailer out yet even though it’s supposedly out in December, and even images of the film is scarce. I’d say it’s worth a rent if you like the cast and in the mood of an unconventional indie rom-com.

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Check out FlixChatter’s exclusive interview w/ Rik Swartzwelder, Writer/Director/Star of ‘Old Fashioned’ discussing the story origin of his film, casting process and going against Fifty Shades of Grey next year.


Have you seen any of these films? Would love to hear what you think!

TCFF 2014 Interview with Rik Swartzwelder, Writer/Director/Star of ‘Old Fashioned’

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It’s just four more fun days to go before Twin Cities Film Fest wraps, so the fun is far from over! For the past week, I was fortunate enough to be able to meet some truly inspiring and gracious filmmakers/talents. One of my favorite moments covering the film fest is the wonderful chat I had with Rik Swartzwelder, writer/director/star of Old Fashioned, a classic romantic drama that rarely get made anymore in Hollywood. I really think Old Fashioned should inspire both teens and adults as the two characters in the film, Clay & Amber, attempt the impossible: an “old-fashioned” courtship in contemporary America.

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FCInterviewBannerI met Rik straight after work at a coffee shop near the Showplace ICON Theatres. I knew right away we’d get along great as soon as I met him. Despite being such a talented filmmaker, a triple threat no less being able to write/act/direct, Rik is so gracious and humble and chatting with him is such a joy!

Unfortunately I hit yet another snafu with my iPhone recorder, wouldn’t you believe it? It turns out that I did find my taped convo with Haley Lu Richardson after all, but I somehow lost my conversation with Rik 😦 Yet he was kind enough to answer my questions again via email (bless his heart!). I’ve gotten a new voice recording app that hopefully works better that this won’t happen again. So check out the insights into the story idea of Old Fashioned and making the film:

Q: What inspired you to come up with story of ‘old-fashioned’ courtship?

A: I was looking to craft a story that reflected the lives of a lot of single people I knew at the time —just a bunch of normal guys and girls, most in their 20s and 30s, looking to fall in love and find a life partner and all that good stuff.  They also all very much believed in God and wanted to honor God in their dating lives. None of these people were perfect, but they truly were looking for something beyond the hook-up culture and wanted to date in ways that didn’t add to the romantic damage and brokenness overwhelming many singles.

It got me thinking that there might be an opportunity here to explore some pretty counter-cultural ideas in an entertaining way.  And that’s when I remembered a story I’d heard years before about a married man that made a promise to never be alone with any woman that wasn’t his wife.  He did this to safeguard his marriage from potential infidelity and also to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.I thought that was such a unique and strong choice that it could open up a lot of possibilities for a character in a contemporary love story.  And what if some guy made a promise like that and wasn’t even married yet? What would that look like? Definitely not the norm. It seemed like a good launching pad for a lot of interesting conflict and debate.  And that was the beginning of the rather odd and curious character that eventually became Clay Walsh in Old Fashioned.

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2. Please tell us the casting process and how you ended up choosing Elizabeth as your co-lead.

We spent a lot of time casting the film… looked at well over 1,000 actors. And, since we were shooting the film in Ohio, it was important for us to cast as many local actors as possible. We wanted the film to feel authentically mid-western.

Plus, there is so much amazing talent out there that simply never gets the chance to shine.  We really took our time and were able to discover some remarkable local actors. And to me, one of the best parts of indie films is that discovery of new talent.

This is especially true of Elizabeth Ann Roberts. She gives a star-making performance in Old Fashioned and I’m so excited for the world to see it. She’s based in Los Angeles, actually, and I saw her on tape very early in the casting process. She blew me away, made me literally cry… on tape.  She was Amber.

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But, as often happens, we kept looking at other actors for many months. At the end of the day, no one came close to Elizabeth’s audition. After meeting in person, I was sold. And she was an absolute joy to work with. There’s no doubt, casting her was one of the very best decisions I’ve ever made.
 
3. You said this film was not a religious per se, but it’s a story with faith in it. Could you elaborate on that a bit?
 
It’s a love story about broken people struggling to figure out a different way to look at romance in a very hedonistic, confusing era. These are real people; they aren’t perfect, they make serious mistakes… and one of these people also happens to take his faith in God rather seriously, to a fault almost. The faith elements in the film are very organic to the character’s journeys and are set in a very real-world and relatable environment.
 
It’s not a Pollyanna approach to complicated issues or propaganda offering a point-by-point “how to” when it comes to dating.  It’s an old school, deeply heart-felt romance that asks some hard, honest, and refreshing questions about love in modern America.
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4. This film is going to go against Fifty Shades of Grey, was that a deliberate decision on your part?
 
To be clear, when I first got the idea for Old Fashioned I had never even heard of Fifty Shades… in fact, it was years before the author had probably even thought of the idea herself. I wasn’t creating Old Fashioned in reaction or response to any other book or movie; I was seeking to tell a different kind of love story that reflected the lives of singles I knew at the time.

That said, by the time we actually raised the money and actually got Old Fashioned made, Fifty Shades had become a cultural juggernaut. When they announced they were going to open their film on Valentine’s Day 2015 as a date-night romance… that’s when we got the idea. It seemed like a unique, possibly once in a lifetime kind of opportunity to offer alternating views of love and romance on the same day. We know it’s David v. Goliath here, we’re not naïve. But, we also very much believe it’s a cultural discussion worth having and are very grateful for the conversations that have already begun since we announced our release date.

And look, let’s be honest, finding your audience remains one of the biggest challenges for truly independent cinema. Our release date against Fifty Shades has already raised our profile to the point that folks interested in an alternative love story like ours are now having a much easier time finding us. And they are letting us know, in growing numbers, that we are definitely not alone in believing that there is indeed a more beautiful way to approach love and romance. And that is very, very encouraging.


Old Fashioned has two screenings at TCFF. One was last Saturday 10/18 at 2pm and the other one is later today at 4:30pm. It’ll be released in theaters on Valentine’s Day, 2015.


Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, Rik.
I wish you & your project all the best!

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Hope you enjoyed the interview. Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews tomorrow!