TCFF 2019 Film Spotlight: ‘Go Back To China’ – Q&A with writer/director Emily Ting

GO BACK TO CHINA

Synopsis: When spoiled rich girl Sasha Li blows through most of her trust fund, she is cut off by her father and forced to go back to China and work for the family toy business.


Review of GO BACK TO CHINA

When I first heard of the title, I did a double take. It has that anti-immigrant sentiment, but yet that provocative title works perfectly in the context of this film (read below on my Q&A about how director Emily Ting arrived on that title). This is the first time I saw Anna Akana (I wasn’t aware she’s a famous YouTube star), but the casting is spot-on as she brings a natural whimsy and playfulness to the drama. Although her character Sasha spoiled and even delusional at first (as illustrated in the hilarious opening scene where she goes on a job interview at a fashion house), you can’t help but empathize with her and wants to see her do well.

L-R: Lynn Chen, Anna Akana and Richard Ng in a still from GO BACK TO CHINA

This is a coming-of-age story of sort, with Sasha being forced to terms with her father’s wishes of working at his factory, and finally finding her footing in the family business. The fact that the film was shot in Shenzen, China definitely makes the film feels very authentic. There are some tough moments between her and her old-fashioned father (Richard Ng), especially in regards to him constantly getting divorced and remarried. Naturally they differ in what each consider familial duty, with Sasha’s loyal step-sister Carol (Lynn Chen) sometimes caught in the middle. At times the story feels like an adaptation of the prodigal son from the Bible.

If I had to nitpick however, at times the fact that Sasha gets acclimated in the business and excels as a toy designer feels too good to be true. Somehow the toy factory crisis in the third act is resolved all too conveniently as well. But those are small quibbles in an otherwise charming and entertaining familial drama. Having grown up with an entrepreneurial, head-strong grandmother who’s Chinese-Indonesian, I can certainly relate to the story.

This is a terrific sophomore feature from Emily Ting. I really enjoyed her debut film Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, and here she stepped up the game with a more complex story and also a bigger cast. I particularly enjoyed the scenes between Anna Akana and Lynn Chen, two strong Asian-American performers I’d love to see more of. I also have to mention the extremely-underrated Kelly Hu as Sasha’s mother, I wish she had more screen time but glad she’s part of the cast.

It’s wonderful to see more Asian-American stories coming out the past few years. Emily Ting is a gifted filmmaker I hope would continue making films. Oh, and after watching this, I suddenly got the urge of getting a bunch of stuffed animals! 😀

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Interview with Emily Ting

1. Go Back To China was inspired by your own experience and certainly felt personal. Would you share a bit about that experience working in Shenzen at your dad’s company?

I feel like everyone has one story that has shaped the trajectory of their life and defined who they are today. For me, going back to China to work for the family business is that story. I learned a lot about myself in the 12 years I spent working for the family business, and making this film was a really cathartic experience. When I decided to go back to Asia, I thought that meant giving up on my filmmaking aspirations forever. But ironically, that experience ended up inspiring all the films I’ve made since. 

On set with lead actress Anna Akana

2. How did you decide on making the semi-autobiography into a comedy, has that always been your vision from the start?

This was actually my attempt at making a serious drama! But I naturally have a very light touch, so this is just my filmmaking voice coming out. Also, I think that a lot of the comedy is a result of Anna Akana’s performance. She is a comedienne, and she brought a lot of her comedic chops to the role. I don’t think the film would be as funny if someone else had played Sasha.

Anna Akana in a scene inside the factory’s sample room

3. The title is certainly quite provocative, and it’s perfect for this story. How did you come up with that?

I finished the whole script without any idea on what to call the film. I was playing around with some more mundane ideas for the title, like “The Family Business” or something like that. And as almost a joke, I slapped “Go Back to China” on the draft as a working title, since this is a film literally about a girl who goes back to China. But I didn’t think that we could actually call my film that. I think that my manager was the first person I sent the script to and he took to the title right away. And then everyone else that I sent the script to told me they loved the title and that I shouldn’t change it. So it just stuck! I still can’t believe that I got away with making a film called Go Back to China!

4. I LOVE the cast here, esp. Anna Akana & Lynn Chen as the sisters. How did their casting come about? I’d love to hear about Richard Ng & Kelly Hu’s casting as well if you wouldn’t mind sharing.

At the time when I was working on the script, I was doing a lot of general meetings at digital companies and Anna Akana’s name kept coming up. I wasn’t familiar with her work, so I looked her up on Youtube and went down a rabbit hole watching her videos. She is immensely watchable and embodied who Sasha is. Even though she has a huge following on Youtube, she hasn’t acted in a lot of traditional films. I took a leap of faith and made an offer. She responded to the material and came on board. I still can’t believe that this is her first lead role in a film!

After Sasha was cast, the role of Carol was much easier to fill. I had been a fan of Lynn Chen for a long time and knew that she would knock the role out of the park. I asked my friend Dave Boyle (who worked with her on several films) to pass the script along to her. She responded in a few days that she was in! Even though I already knew Lynn could act, her performance in this film still blew me away. She made me cry behind the monitor on set many times!

Director Emily Ting on set with her GO BACK TO CHINA cast

The hardest role to fill was the father. I had to push the production several times because we couldn’t get the role cast. The father’s casting process was in a way very reflective of a film about daddy issues! I had wanted a name Asian actor for the role. Actually, one of the first people I thought of was Richard Ng, who is a very beloved veteran Hong Kong actor, and we had worked together on Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong previously. But the internal consensus was that, at almost 80, he was too old for the role. We started sending offers out to younger name Asian actors. But we just couldn’t get anyone to read the script! After months of this, I returned to my initial idea of Richard. I thought, what if we just aged him down through HMU and wardrobe? My producer was on board with this idea, and I wrote an email to him. He read the script in about two weeks and agreed to take on the role. We gave him a new haircut and a more stylish wardrobe, and he was transformed into Teddy instantly. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve just followed my gut and could’ve avoided months of anxiety.

We were really lucky to get Kelly Hu for the mother role. It is a very small role and my casting director didn’t think any name actors would want to take on what is basically a glorified cameo role. But I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask. We sent the offer to her on a Thursday, and by the following Tuesday, she signed on. Even though her role would be small, she loved the script and wanted to help the project any way she could.

5. Some of the toys featured in the film are adorable. How did you get them, did any of the ones you designed make it to the movie?

The sloth was actually from our family’s toy company’s Christmas line! I did come up with an idea for a Christmas sloth in real life, and the item was sold at Dollar General, Kroger, and some other stores. All the other toys that you see in the movie were products that were being manufactured at the factory on the days we were shooting. We went around the production line and picked toys that fit with our pastel color palette to appear on camera.

6. What are some of the challenges you faced making this movie compared to Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong, which also has elements from your own personal journey?

The two movies are such different beasts, and both had totally different challenges. Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong was shot in very uncontrolled environments and situations (running around the streets of Hong Kong). We didn’t have any control of the weather, traffic, or the people on the streets. Every day was unpredictable. But it was a very simple movie in terms of coverage, because we just had two people walking and talking. We shot the film in 14 days and only worked 6 – 8 hours on most days. For Go Back to China, the locations were all very controlled, since we shot mostly in locations that my family owned, but it’s a much more complicated film in terms of coverage. This is a much bigger story, with a lot more characters and scenes. We just had so much more to shoot in order to get all the coverage we needed. We shot for 21 days and worked the maximum 12 hours every day. And this is also a much more personal film for me than the last one. This film is about my family and not just a random encounter. It felt more meaningful and the stakes higher.

On set with Lynn Chen and Anna Akana

7. Lastly, with the release of Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell in the past couple of years, and the ongoing diversity/inclusion discussion, do you think the cinematic landscape has changed for Asian filmmakers? 

I definitely think that Crazy Rich Asians opened a lot of doors and the industry is more receptive to Asian American stories. At least now, they can’t use the excuse that Asian stories can’t attract an audience. I have been having a lot of general meetings with companies that are actively looking for Asian content or Asian filmmakers, and it’s certainly an encouraging trend. But at the end of the day, Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell are still the rare anomaly and not the rule yet. However, I’m much more optimistic about the future than ever before.


Thank you for chatting with me, Emily!


TCFF screening times of Go Back To China:
Wednesday October 23rd 12:15 PM

TCFF 2019 Film Spotlight: ‘International Falls’ – Review + Interview with writer/director Amber McGinnis

INTERNATIONAL FALLS

Synopsis: A woman stuck in a small, snowbound border town has dreams of doing comedy when she meets a washed up, burned out comedian with dreams of doing anything else.


International Falls is hard to fit in a genre. Dee (Rachael Harris) is born, raised, and settled in International Falls. Tim (Rob Huebel) is a traveling comedian who has a two-day stop in Dee’s little middle of nowhere Minnesota town. Both characters have reached a breaking point in their lives, and their meeting briefly gives them a human connection they both have been desperately missing. The two bond over their brokenness and by the time the credits roll both characters have made a huge decision.

Counterintuitive as it may sound, International Falls is a coming of age film. Sure, its protagonists are well into their forties, if not past that, but both are wrestling with decisions that will dramatically shape their futures. As Ernest Hemingway taught us in The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, not all of us grow up on schedule, sometimes we have to grow up more than once, and more often than not there is collateral damage to that growth. 

Amber McGinnis (writer/director) excels at directing emotionally fraught and comedically awkward scenes alike. She has a unique ability to make space for her actors to really dig deep into the non-verbals of their characters, which both Harris and Huebel put to good use.

Tonally, International Falls is almost romantic, but neither character is available. Their sweet moments are almost always intruded upon by their families.  It’s a funny movie, but only in very short bursts. And the dramatic tension is broken every single time Dee’s husband Gary (Matthew Glave), who is every inch the caricature of a  Minnesota native, steps on screen.

This leads me to my biggest, pettiest quibble about this movie. The accents were bad and unnecessary. Unless you’re trying to make a comedy (which International Falls is definitely not) the accents just get in the way. Do some people talk like that here? Sure, a couple. But they are few and far between and most of them are living in retirement homes at this point.

My only other quibble is that all of the standup writing is bad. For Tim, that’s kind of a given. He tells us a million times that he is bad and we are supposed to believe him. But (very mild spoiler alert) when we get to see Dee do her standup routine, it is also quite bad. Worse than that (she is a newbie after all, we can forgive her a little), her standup has a completely different tone that her character does. It doesn’t feel like the kind of standup that she would write.

Overall this is a great movie. It relishes in the frigid Minnesota landscape, pays homage to a couple of our favorite eyesores (hello Smokey the Bear dressed up as a lumberjack holding ice skates), and subtly pokes fun at the Minnesota nice stereotype. I have a feeling that non-Minnesotans are going to like it better than those of us who live here (seriously those accents are grating), but it’s a nice reminder that the puberty isn’t the only chance that humans have to turn into adults.

– Review by Holly Peterson

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Interview by Ruth Maramis
with Amber McGinnis

1. How did you get into filmmaking and how do you choose your projects.

This is my first feature and it’s been one of the most fulfilling, exciting, and hardest things I’ve ever done. I’m a trained theatre director, so I’m used to doing more long form storytelling in that medium, but up until this project I had only done shorts and industrials with film. I was ready to take the next step and make a feature but I had a hard time finding traction and funding. So in the spirit of true indie filmmaking I decided to stop waiting on someone else to give me an opportunity and set out to make one for myself. That meant partnering with our amazing writer Thomas Ward to develop the script, starting my own production company, and learning the nuance of producing a film alongside my co-producer Nick Dunlevy. It hasn’t been a perfect process. It’s been long and grueling but I have learned SO MUCH! And I am so proud of how we persevered. There were so many times when it felt like it wasn’t going to happen. Luckily I am a very stubborn Southern gal so when we hit obstacles I just dug in that much harder.

BTS photo at Voyageurs National Park

2. I read that this film is based on a 2-people play, which I find so intriguing. How was the process of adapting a play and what are the challenges of doing so?

Thomas really deserves all of the credit for the brilliant writing and adapting of this script. The two person play is basically a more stream-lined version of the same story. It all takes place in one night and in one location. So developing the screenplay was really about breaking open the possibilities that existed for the story visually: adding more locations and characters and time, while maintaining all of the heart and soul of the original story. One of the biggest changes that I love is that the town of International Falls now feels like another character in the film. We had the generous support of the Chamber of Commerce in International Falls and I think it really shows. Also the screenplay focuses more on Dee’s story and journey which excited me as a female filmmaker.

3. I also read that you were pregnant when you made this film? How was that experience, especially as the film deals with a protagonist dealing with a broken marriage?

I tell ya, giving birth to a feature film and a baby in the same year is no small task. We were still in the process of finishing the sound/color when I went into labor, and my husband has this insane picture of me sending emails from the hospital between contractions haha. “Hard” doesn’t even begin to describe it. But it was so WORTH IT. Our protagonist is on a journey in the film towards authenticity- for her it means confronting some really ugly truths in her life so she can fully be herself and chase her dream. I’ve been on a similar journey over the last few years. But once you set your mind to doing that, it doesn’t matter how hard or exhausting it is. Because being true to who we are will always, ALWAYS be less hard than faking it and living inauthentically.

4. Looks like you filmed it in Minnesota, was that in International Falls? Were you set on filming in the Winter months, which I’d imagine also possess an inherent challenge to tackle.

Yes, even though we filmed on location in International Falls in March we were still battling sub zero temperatures. We filmed on a frozen ice lake at Voyageurs National Park for 3 days and every day the park ranger had to come out and measure the thickness of the ice to make sure it was safe for us take all of our trucks out to the tiny island that served as our main shooting location. We had to put hand warmers on the camera batteries to keep them from shutting off. But our Twin Cities based crew was so amazing. They never complained about the cold or the long hours or the grueling work. It was such an awesome group of people, I am forever indebted to them.

Rob Huebel and Rachael Harris on set

5. The casting looks great for this film, would you talk a bit about the casting process?

The cast IS amazing! Everyday I feel so lucky that we got such an all star cast. We had an incredible casting director, Matthew Lessall who brought the core ensemble together. He had a keen eye for actors who could do comedy but were also not afraid of the dark and dramatic. Our lead Rachael Harris was also a great advocate for us as we rounded out the cast with some of the supporting roles. It was truly a team effort.

*All BTS photos are courtesy of Amber McGinnis


Thank you for chatting with me, Amber!


TCFF screening times of International Falls:
Saturday October 19th 7:25PM

TWIN CITIES FILM FEST 2018 tickets on sale today! 20 of My Most-Anticipated Selections

October is already here! And most of you know it’s always an exciting month for me thanks to TCFF!

Well, TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW… so if you haven’t looked at the diverse and inspiring lineup yet, you better get them asap before they sell out!

Check out the full lineup »
Click on the Buy Tickets button on its individual film page.

Once again, the 11-day film festivities runs from October 17-27 at Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON Theatres at The Shops at West End with ICON•X. Click the handy schedule grid below in PDF format.

Now, it’s hard to pick just a few to get excited about as there are simply too many great ones premiering at this year’s fest. So I come up with twenty of must-see movies, broken down by two categories. I’ve also posted the list of the daily schedules below. Films by female filmmakers are marked with an asterisk (*).

Indie and MN-connected Features:

Time For Ilhan*

Director: Norah Shapiro
An eye-opening documentary that follows the 2016 Minnesota House of Representatives campaign of Ilhan Omar, a Somalian immigrant who sets out to unseat a 43-year incumbent and other challengers.

As an immigrant living in Minnesota, this film obviously resonates with me. It’s a film by women AND about women. But surely this is an important film regardless of your background, and I’m thrilled to see this documentary be a part of this year’s TCFF!!

Inventing Tomorrow*

Director: Laura Nix
“Inventing Tomorrow” follows six young scientists from Indonesia, Hawaii, India and Mexico as they tackle some of the most complex environmental issues facing humanity today – right in their own backyards. Each student is preparing original scientific research that he or she will defend at ISEF, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Framed against the backdrop of the severe environmental threats we now face, the audience is immersed in a global view of the planetary crisis, through the eyes of the generation that will be affected by it most.

I love docs that highlights young people, especially young people of color! Yes the fact that I’m from Indonesia and there’s a student from my homeland immediately appeals to me but really, this sounds like an inspiring doc that would make us hopeful about our future.

Rich Kids*

Director: Laura Somers
A group of troubled teens from a low-income community break into “Los Ricos”, the local mansion with a border fence, and spend the day pretending to be rich in order to forget their difficult lives.

It’s another film by a female filmmaker which subject matter intrigues me. Who hasn’t tried to escape from difficult circumstances in our lives? But for these kids, that escape seems more elusive than most.

Noah Wise

Director: Ben Zuckert
As a saxophonist’s quartet comes to an end, he meets a singer-songwriter whose career is just beginning.

I love indie movies that deals with music/musicians. The preview just looks like something I’d enjoy. It reminds me a bit of the indie romance Dust Storm from a years ago that premiered at TCFF, and the storyline also has a bit of that A Star Is Born vibe to it.

Origin Story*

Director: Kulap Vilaysack
Twenty years after learning about her biological father, Kulap Vilaysack finally asks the questions that will lead her to him.

As someone who grew up without a dad, I feel fortunate that at least I knew who my dad was even if he didn’t raise me. I can’t imagine the intricate and likely painful journey of those trying to track down their biological parent. This sounds like a heart-warming tale that’ll sure to linger after the end credits roll.

Lez Bomb*

Director: Jenna Laurenzo
A comedy about a young woman who struggles telling her overbearing mother that the friend she brought home for Thanksgiving is actually her girlfriend.

Thanksgiving with family can be a wonderful as well as stressful time, and that’s why it always makes for an intriguing subject matter. This comedy will sure resonate with anyone who’s ever had a trepidation about sharing a secret with a family member, especially during the holidays.

Sadie*

Director: Megan Griffiths
“Sadie” is the story of a girl who will stop at nothing to preserve her father’s place on the home front. Sadie (Sophia Mitri Schloss) is the daughter of a soldier and models herself after his military example. When her mom (Melanie Lynskey) begins dating a new man (John Gallagher, Jr.), Sadie vows to drive him out by whatever means necessary. He is the enemy, and if she’s learned anything from the world she inhabits, it’s that the enemy deserves no mercy. Also starring Tony Hale, Danielle Brooks, Tee Dennard and Keith L. Williams.

I LOVE Melanie Lynskey and so I’m glad to see her in a film in this year’s fest! But sounds like Sophia Mitri Schloss is the breakout star here in this emotional family drama.

Humor Me

Director: Sam Hoffman
“Humor Me” is a heartfelt father-son comedy about a struggling playwright who is forced to move in with his joke-telling dad in a New Jersey retirement community and learns, as his father often says, “life’s going to happen, whether you smile or not.”

I feel like this ‘down on his luck guy moving back in with his parents’ story has been told many time before, but it instantly feels fresh with Jemaine Clement, one of the awesome musical duo of Flight of the Concords and of course, my all time fave vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows!

American Tender

Director: C.J. Renner
It was never just a date.

I’ve become a fan of MN filmmaker CJ Renner since I saw his innovative noir GUNN (see my interview last year with him here). He said this one sort of ‘sneaked up on him’ as he seemed to have shot this film fairly quickly. I was immediately hooked by the cool, mysterious trailer!

When Jeff Tried to Save the World*

Director: Kendall Goldberg
Starring Jon Heder in attendance (Napoleon Dynamite) & Jim O’Heir (Parks & Recreation): When the manager of an old-school bowling alley discovers the owner’s plans to sell, saving Winky’s World means pulling himself out of the gutter, too.

Can you believe ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ was 14 years ago?? I really enjoyed that one when I first saw it. Well, Jon Heder is back and he’ll actually be in attendance in October!! This sounds like another comedic winner that sure to warm the hearts.

Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me

Director: Sam Pollard
The first major film documentary to examine Sammy Davis, Jr.’s vast talent and his journey for identity through the shifting tides of civil rights and racial progress during 20th-century America.

I love Sammy Davis Jr.’s voice and music but I don’t know anything about his life. Given the era when he grew up, this sure to be a fascinating documentary not to be missed!

Point of No Return

Director: Noel Dockstader and Quinn Kanaly
Two pilots attempt to fly their fragile, experimental solar airplane – Solar Impulse – around the world to prove the potential of clean energy.

I love docs about innovative technology and this looks amazing visually plus the idea of solar plane is just so darn cool! 

 

Studio Features:

Green Book

Director: Peter Farrelly

A working-class Italian-American bouncer becomes the driver of an African-American classical pianist on a tour of venues through the 1960s American South.

Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali is a cinematic duo I didn’t think I need but now I can’t imagine living without. Last time I saw Ali was in the phenomenal Oscar-winner Moonlight (which I also saw at TCFF!) and Viggo was in the excellent family drama Captain Fantastic. Together they’d surely electrify the screen!

A Private War

Director: Matthew Heineman
One of the most celebrated war correspondents of our time, Marie Colvin is an utterly fearless and rebellious spirit, driven to the frontline of conflicts across the globe to give voice to the voiceless.

I’ve been a long admirer of Rosamund Pike, long before she starred in career-turning Gone Girl. This sounds like an Oscar-worthy performance from the versatile and talented Brit.

The Favourite

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne (Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah (Weisz) governs the country in her stead. When a new servant Abigail (Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.

Whenever Yorgos Lanthimos directs something, it seems to always get tongue wagging. ‘The Lobster’ is one of those bizarrely-wonderful movie that makes you go ‘just what the heck is going on?’ This time he seems to apply that same strange sensibilities to a royal family period drama.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?*

Director: Marielle Heller
Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) who made her living in the 1970’s and 80’s profiling the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Estee Lauder and journalist Dorothy Kilgallen. When Lee is no longer able to get published because she has fallen out of step with current tastes, she turns her art form to deception, abetted by her loyal friend Jack (Richard E. Grant). An adaptation of the memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the true story of best-selling celebrity biographer (and friend to cats).

Melissa McCarthy is tackling a dramatic role in this biopic that’s originally supposed to star Julianne Moore. I’m even more intrigued the fact that she’s the lead here, and for me, I’m always intrigued by films about writers.

Widows

Director: Steve McQueen

“Widows” is the story of four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities. Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, tensions build when Veronica (Viola Davis), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) take their fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.

When I first saw this trailer, I knew I had to see it!! I mean Viola Davis going full bad-ass mode a la Liam Neeson in ‘Taken’, and hey he actually played her husband!! Then I saw Steve McQueen directing… so yeah, bring. it. on!!

If Beale Street Could Talk

Director: Barry Jenkins
“Widows” is the story of four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities. Set in contemporary Chicago, amid a time of turmoil, tensions build when Veronica (Viola Davis), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) take their fate into their own hands and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.

I mentioned one of TCFF’s gala films ‘Moonlight’ earlier. Well glad to see Barry Jenkins’ follow-up feature made it to TCFF this year. This looks like a tear-jerker and absolutely heart-wrenching. I was instantly smitten by the two young leads KiKi Layne and Stephan James.

Saving Flora

Director: Mark Taylor
An unbreakable bond between an elephant and girl is put to the test, How far will you go to save a friend?

A family drama about a kid bonding with an elephant? Well this looks like a heart-warming and less-fantastical version of ‘Dumbo’ that’s out next year. Glad to hear David Arquette and Tom Arnold might attend the premiere on October 22!

Chef Flynn

Director: Cameron Yates
Ten-year-old Flynn transforms his living room into a supper club using his classmates as line cooks. With sudden fame, Flynn outgrows his bedroom kitchen, and sets out to challenge the hierarchy of the culinary world.

This doc about young culinary whiz will sure wet our appetite and wish you had even an iota of his talents around the kitchen! So interesting that he even involves his classmates as cooks. Renowned chef Andrew Zimmern who’s now based in MN is scheduled to make an appearance on Thursday, Oct. 25’s premiere!

Films directed by women


Great things come in small packages! Don’t forget about the wonderful short films selections. Check out what’s playing in the seven SHORT BLOCKS that’s been curated by TCFF programmers!


…..

2018 TWIN CITIES FILM FEST DAILY SCHEDULE

Wed – October 17

5:45p.m.: Time for Ilhan, Noah Shapiro*

8:15p.m.: Green Book, Peter Farrelly*

Thurs – October 18

1:30p.m.: The Eyes of ThailandWindy Borman

2:00p.m.: Lez BombJenna Laurenzo

3:30p.m.: After Hours TradingFredrick Johnson

4:00p.m.: Inventing TomorrowLaura Nix

6:15p.m.: Point of No ReturnNoel Dockstader and Quinn Kanaly

7:00p.m.: American TenderC.J. Renner*

8:40p.m.: Time TrapMark Dennis & Ben Foster

9:15p.m.: Laugh ’til You DIE ShortsVarious

Fri – October 19

2:15p.m.: Nor Any Drop to Drink, Cedric Taylor

3:00p.m.: Coby, Christian Sonderegger

5:00p.m.: The Shingle Life, Peter Marcy

5:15p.m.: One Bedroom, Darien Sills-Evans

7:20p.m.: When Jeff Tried to Save the World, Kendall Goldberg

9:35p.m.: Strange Nature, Jim Ojala

9:45p.m.: In This Gray Place, R.D. Womack II 

Sat – October 20

10:00a.m.: Through the Windmill, Amanda Kulkoski

11:45a.m.: Kids Incorporated Shorts, Various

12:00p.m.: F.R.E.D.I, Sean Olson

1:45p.m.: Not in My Lifetime, Pam Colby

2:30p.m.: Chasing the Thunder, Mark Benjamin Rhino ShieldBilly Ward

3:45p.m.: Noah Wise, Ben Zuckert*

5:10p.m.: Summer ’03, Becca Gleason

6:15p.m.: Widows, Steve McQueen*

7:30p.m.: Black, David J. Buchanan

7:30p.m.: Humor Me, Sam Hoffman

9:10p.m.: Long Lost, Erik Bloomquist

9:45p.m.: Gags, Adam Krause

Sun – October 21

10:10a.m.: Rich Kids, Laura Somers*

11:00a.m.: Belong to Us, Patrick Rea

12:30p.m.: Regarding the Case of Joan of Arc, Matthew D. Wilder

1:30p.m.: Life in the Doghouse, Ron Davis

3:00p.m.: Operation Wedding, Anat Zalmanson Kuznetsov

5:00p.m.: The Testament, Amichai Greenberg

7:00p.m.: Homeward Bound – Shorts, Various

7:30p.m.: 93Queen, Paula Eiselt

9:30p.m.: Two in the Bush: A Love Story, Laura Madalinski

Mon – October 22

3:45p.m.: The Push, Grant Korgan and Brian Niles

4:00p.m.: Special Ed, Frank Anderson

6:00p.m.: Saving Flora, Mark Taylor

6:30p.m.: The Lumber Baron, Barry Anderson

7:00p.m.: Sadie, Megan Griffiths

9:15p.m.: We Can Relate – Shorts, Various

9:20p.m.: All Square, John Hyams 

Tues – October 23

2:45p.m.: Fire on the Hill, Brett Fallentine

5:00p.m.: The Skin of the Teeth, Matthew Wollin

5:10p.m.: Finding Hygge, Rocky Walls

7:00p.m.: Can You Ever Forgive Me? Marielle Heller

7:30p.m.: Across the Water, Nicolo Donato

9:30p.m.: Wunderland, Steven Luke

9:40p.m.: JackRabbit 29, Kyle Klubal

Wed – October 24

2:45p.m.: American Tender, C.J. Renner

3:15p.m.: Sadie, Megan Griffiths

3:45p.m.: The Lumber Baron, Barry Anderson

5:00p.m.: The Prodigal Dad, Robert Wenzek

5:45p.m: Big Dream, Kelly Cox

6:30p.m.: Legend of Cambria, Alexei Tylevich

7:10p.m.: Passionate Voices – Shorts, Various

8:00p.m.: Who Will Write our History, Roberta Grossman

8:15p.m.: The Best People, Dan Levy Dagerman

9:25p.m.: Witch, Vanessa Magowan Horrocks Powers 

Thurs – October 25

2:45p.m.: Chasing the Thunder, Mark Benjamin

5:00p.m.: Song of Back and Neck, Paul Lieberstein

5:10p.m.: Artistic Expressions – Shorts, Various

7:05p.m.: Chef Flynn, Cameron Yates

7:15p.m.: Shoelaces, Jacob Goldwasser

9:15p.m.: Thrilling, Tingling Tales – Shorts, Various

9:25p.m.: Newly Single, Adam Christian Clark 

Fri – October 26

10:00a.m.: Noah Wise, Ben Zuckert

10:30a.m.: Time Trap, Mark Dennis & Ben Foster

12:15p.m.: In This Gray Place, R.D. Womack II

12:45p.m.: The Prodigal Dad, Robert Wenzek

5:00p.m.: Electric LoveAaron Fradkin

5:30p.m.: Generation StartUp, Cynthia Wade, Cheryl Miller Houser

7:00p.m.: Boy Erased, Joel Edgerton

7:45p.m.: Lez Bomb, Jenna Laurenzo

9:45p.m.: Muse, John Burr 

Sat – October 27

10:00a.m.: Origin Story, Kulap Vilaysack

10:10a.m.: The Push, Grant Korgan and Brian Niles

12:20p.m.: In a Relationship, Sam Boyd

12:30p.m.: DocuMNtary: The Story of Tech in MInnesota, Nick Roseth

2:00p.m.: Zeroes, Charles St. John Smith III

2:45p.m.: The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos

4:30p.m.: A Private War, Matthew Heineman

5:30p.m: If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins

7:00p.m.: United Skates, Tina Brown & Dyana Winkler

8:15p.m.: Doubtful, Eliran Elya



Festival Passes breakdown:

  • Silver Pass – $50 (5 pack of non-Gala tickets)
  • Gold Pass – $80 (10 pack of non-Gala tickets)
  • Platinum Pass – $120 (12 pack of non-Gala tickets + 2 Gala tickets)
  • Gala Pass – $100 (6 tickets to any Gala Film)
  • All Access Pass – $500 (Guaranteed seat in premiere row at ANY screening +more!).

Oh and as if great films aren’t enough for the 11-day festivities, check out the amazing lineup of FREE EDUCATIONAL events!!


So which of these film(s) are YOU most excited about?

FlixChatter Review – Pitch Perfect 3 (2017)

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Directed By: Trish Sie
Written By: Kay Cannon, Mike White based on the book by Mickey Rapkin
Runtime: 1h 33min

I’ve had mixed feelings on the Pitch Perfect movies. As a choir nerd, I appreciate the music. As a film fan, I’ve been unimpressed with the writing, finding the plots forgettable and the comedy (with a few exceptions) underwhelming. I didn’t go into this movie expecting to hate it, but I didn’t think I’d like it any better than the first two.

In Pitch Perfect 3, we see the Barden Bellas a couple years out of college, struggling to find their places outside of the world of competetive a capella. At a performance of the younger Bellas (led by Hailee Steinfeld‘s Emily), the group decides to participate in the U.S.O.’s annual European musical tour and relive their glory days. Once there, they discover that they will be competing against three other musical groups for a coveted spot opening for DJ Khaled at the tour’s final performance- and, for the first time, they will be competing against musicians who use instruments.

While the third installment isn’t by any means a brilliant movie, I was still pleasantly surprised, mostly by how much the cast has improved. Individually, there are plenty of talented members, but I never felt like the girls had any real chemistry until now. They genuinely seem like a good group of friends and their quirky personalities mesh surprisingly well. While they all give solid acting performances, the stand-outs for me are Hana Mae Lee as Lilly and Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy. Lee’s delightfully weird Lilly barely has any lines, and the few she does have are barely audible, but her physical comedy is on point. Wilson’s performance in the first two movies underwhelmed me, but I think that’s more the writers’ fault than hers; the majority of her “funny” lines were about her weight, and that much one-note humor is really only good for a few trailer highlights; it’s not enough to support a whole film. However, they give her a little more to work with in this film, and it shows; while she still shines comedically, she has a few more dramatic moments that show a more serious, sincere side of her, and she handles it incredibly well.

Despite the stronger acting, however, the writing still struggles a bit in this movie. It’s unsurprising that the story centers around a singing competition again-they’re a competetive a capella group- but the way the musicians the Bellas are competing against aren’t very well-handled. At first, it seems like they’re being set up to become friends (or, at least, not enemies) with the Bellas, when the three other acts (Saddle Up, DJ Dragon Nutz, and Evermoist-led by Ruby Rose‘s Calamity) all start performing together during their riff-off against the Bellas, implying that it’s more fun to sing together than to sing against each other. However, they quickly fall into the catty, condescending competitor trope pretty quickly afterwards. The fact that, past the riff-off and the first concert, we never see them perform again, makes this tense competition lose some of its edge as well. It’s a shame, because while the Bella’s numbers are all well-done, it would have been fun to hear more of the other groups than just the couple numbers at the beginning.

There’s also this weird B-plot involving Amy and her supposedly-reformed criminal father (played by John Lithgow doing a pretty awful Australian accent) in an attempt to add a little action to the movie, and while some of it is entertaining (especially this Mission Impossible-esque scene of Amy sneaking through a yacht), it doesn’t fit the tone of the film or the series as a whole. Its inclusion kind of reminded me of the Spice World, but with less commitment to the ridiculousness. It’s a change from the other movies’ formula, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.

The biggest problem is that, while it feels like all of the Bellas get more equal focus than they have in the previous two, the script tries to fit in too many individual backstories and conflicts in one movie, leading to clunky exposition and shoehorned-in resolutions-some, like Anna Camp‘s Aubrey, not even wrapped up until after the credits start rolling. I admire that they’re trying to add a little more dimension to the characters, but the movie isn’t well-paced enough to do so.

Despite all of this, Pitch Perfect 3 might be my favorite of the series, thanks largely to, of course, the music. As usual, the soundtrack is as fun, pretty, and polished as the Bellas’ costumes, hair, and makeup (seriously, I want to invest in a few sparkly dresses after seeing the wardrobe in this movie). While all of the performers are capable singers, Anna Kendrick as Beca especially shines with her clear, bright tone, and is given plenty of opportunities to do so. And as talented as the Bellas are, the musical highlight for me is the “Riff-Off” mash-up with the other bands, showcasing and blending the musicians’ different styles in a creative arrangement.

If you’re not a musical fan, you may want to skip this, but if you enjoyed the first two, you’ll definitely like this one. The acting is strong, more jokes land than in the first two, and the soundtrack is fantastic. The final installment of Pitch Perfect 3 certainly ends on a high note.

laura_review


Have you seen ‘Pitch Perfect 3’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: LADY BIRD (2017)

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Directed By: Greta Gerwig
Written By: Greta Gerwig
Runtime: 1 hr 34 minutes

So at this point I think that my opinion of Lady Bird is wrong – if it is possible for an opinion on a piece of art to be wrong. The vast majority of everyone seems to have decided that Lady Bird is a piece of subtle genius, a near perfect discussion of adolescence and mother/daughter relationships.

But the movie didn’t do it for me.

Lady Bird opens on a mother and daughter traveling in a car as the last several moments of The Grapes of Wrath fill the silence between them. The monologue ends and Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) removes the cassette tape from the tape deck, puts it back in its case, and takes a moment to sit in a harmonious sniffling silence with her mother (Laurie Metcalf). It is one of the few moments of harmony between the two characters and, like every other such moment, it quickly devolves in an argument, which itself terminates with a very dramatic, perfectly indie exit from the vehicle.

Lady Bird’s primary asset is its perfect grasp on indie films as a genre. Lady Bird perfectly encapsulates the quirky real-world aesthetic that makes indie movies so much fun through muted cinematography, a subtle script, and understated performances.

The cast in Lady Bird was incredible. Beanie Feldstein was charming as Julie Steffans, Lady Bird’s best friend. Lucas Hedges played a heart rending Danny O’Neill. Laurie Metcalf (again, the mother character) broke my damn heart on her drive around the airport out of the park, which was an especially marked achievement considering that that portion of the story made no sense. Having loved Saoirse Ronan in movies like Brooklyn and Grand Budapest Hotel, I was surprised to find her completely uninteresting in Lady Bird. Ronan’s performance was a steady monotone, which was a jarring choice considering Lady Bird’s tumultuous inner life. Lady Bird is constantly rebelling, but her exterior is placid to a fault.

I also took issue with the development of two characters: Kyle Scheible (Timothee Chalamet) and Marion McPherson (Laurie Metcalf). Kyle Scheible was simultaneously filling two icky boyfriend tropes: the pseudo-intellectual and the popular kid, which meant that some of the best jokes were at his character’s expense, but also that he did not make sense as a person. Kyle Scheible always existed on the periphery of a group of beautiful people, ignoring them for books about philosophy or history.

Similarly, Marion McPherson, played to a tee by Laurie Metcalf, made no sense. Perhaps my own childhood, being the average thing that it was, did not prepare me to believe that it is possible for a mother to be so petty with so little reason, but don’t think that’s it. I can buy a mother who is a flawed human and says the wrong thing and, despite it all, is still probably a better mother than she had growing up. What I cannot buy (and excuse me for being vague – I am trying to avoid spoilers) is a mother who reacts in extremes that wind up hurting her more than her victims.

Worse, the end of the movie felt forced. One bad college party makes Lady Bird appreciate her upbringing and the values she was raised with. Although I understand the impulse to wrap the story up neatly, the reason behind the revelation was not there, so it just felt awkward.

Ultimately a few amazing performances and general indie charm are not enough to save Lady Bird. If nothing else interesting is playing, I would still suggest watching it. It’s worth it for the the constant stream of early 2000s nostalgia that runs through the entire movie and a few powerful moments: the hug between Lady Bird and Danny O’Neill (you’ll know it when you see it) and the mother’s drive through the airport are two such moments that come to mind.

Lady Bird has its moments.


hollyHolly P. is a twenty-something millennial who enjoys shouting at people on the internet, riding her bicycle, and overbooking her schedule. She prefers storytelling that has a point and comedy that isn’t mean. Her favorite movies are Aladdin, the Watchmen (even though the book was way better), and Hot Fuzz.  She’s seen every Lord of the Rings movie at least a dozen times.  You can follow her @tertiaryhep on twitter or @hollyhollyoxenfreee on Instagram. She’s also on Tinder, but if you find her there she’ll probably ghost on you because wtf is dating in the 21st century. 


Have you seen ‘Lady Bird’? Well, what did you think? 

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.

4Reels

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


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

Guest Review: Everything, Everything (2017)

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Directed By: Stella Meghie
Written By: J. Mills Goodloe (screenplay) based on a book by Nicola Yoon
Runtime: 1 hr 36 minutes

I went into Everything, Everything with somewhat low expectations. There are very few romance movies that I enjoy, and one based off a young adult novel seemed even less appealing. The trailers looked cheesy and predictable, and I was prepared to roll my eyes for an hour and a half. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised.

Everything, Everything tells the story of Maddy Whittier (Amandla Stenberg), an eighteen-year-old who has been unable to leave her house her entire life due to an extreme immunodeficiency. The only human interaction she has is with her mother (and doctor) Pauline (Anika Noni Rose), her nurse Carla (Ana de la Reguera), and Carla’s daughter Rosa (Danube Hermosillo)- until a new family moves in next door, including a boy named Olly (Nick Robinson). Olly and Maddy’s friendship, first through glances through their windows and texting, then secret meetings arranged by Carla, soon develops into a romance that has Maddy questioning whether some risks are worth taking.

Easily the best part about this movie is Amandla Stenberg. Her performance is moving, subtle, and relatable, and while the rest of the cast is great as well, she is the stand-out actor. She’s an incredibly talented young actress, and I’m hoping this movie opens the door to more leading roles in the future. Anika Noni Rose as Pauline does an excellent job as well, despite not getting nearly enough screen time considering her character’s importance. She strikes a good balance between loving warmth and clinical bluntness.

In addition to the strong acting, this movie is visually stunning, which is impressive considering the majority of it takes place inside one house. It’s beautifully shot and lit, and there are some really creative moments- specifically, turning Maddy and Olly’s texting conversations into imagined face-to-face conversations inside the models Maddy’s built for an architecture class she’s taking. All of this is topped off by a phenomenal soundtrack that fits the tone of the film so perfectly.

All of that said, I did have some issues with this movie. As talented as the romantic leads are individually, their chemistry feels kind of lukewarm. I was also a little annoyed that they don’t spend much time exploring Maddy’s feelings on being homebound her whole life before meeting Olly. I’m not saying their romance acting as a catalyst for her to take action is a problem, but the idea that an eighteen-year-old woman in these circumstances wouldn’t question certain things is pretty unbelievable. Maybe she does in the book, but she doesn’t in the movie, and it would have helped develop her character if she had.

My biggest problem with this movie, however, is the ending. I won’t spoil it, but I will say it’s predictable (at least, I think it is; it was exactly what I expected after seeing the trailer), and it’s so disappointing, because as soon as you start thinking about the details behind it, it’s really convoluted. Again, maybe it’s handled better in the book, but even within the time constraints of an hour and a half long film, it could have been handled better.

Still, I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I expected to, and I plan on checking out the book soon. If you like young adult fiction and romance, this movie is for you. Even if you don’t, you’ll still appreciate the talented cast, the gorgeous cinematography, and the fantastic music.

laura_review


Have you seen ‘Everything, Everything’? Well, what did you think?