Guest Review: SPLIT (2017)

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Directed By: M. Night Shyamalan
Written By: M. Night Shyamalan
Runtime: 1 hr 57 minutes

M. Night Shyamalan has struggled over the years to regain his early 2000’s glory. From a movie about trees compelling people commit suicide, to a horrible adaptation of a beloved animated series, several of his more recent films have been flops. His newest movie, however, has been attracting a lot of attention, and people are wondering if it might be a return to the tense, unique thrillers that originally made Shyamalan a household name. Does it deliver? In addition, can a movie with an antagonist whose defining characteristic is a legitimate mental disorder succeed without being offensive or painfully inaccurate?

In Split, three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey, Haley Lu Richardson as Claire, and Jessica Sula as Marcia) are kidnapped by Kevin (James McAvoy), a man with dissociative identity disorder. Kevin currently has twenty-three personalities who are awaiting the arrival of a new, mysterious one who is simply called The Beast. The girls must figure out which personalities they can trust or manipulate to help them escape.

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While this film had its problems, it was still one of the better ones I’ve seen out of Shyamalan in quite a while. It starts out tense and is suspenseful the whole way through; at the risk of sounding cliché, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, watching the girls’ constant attempts at escape and tense interactions with Kevin’s multiple personalities. James McAvoy gave a fantastic performance, managing to portray nine different personalities without overdoing any of them in an attempt to make them distinct. The actresses playing the kidnapped teenagers gave great performances as well, especially Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more of their work in the future.

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That said, this was far from a perfect movie. There were some moments where the tone felt a little confused, and I wasn’t sure if the audience was supposed to laugh or feel unnerved. Much of the exposition comes from Kevin’s psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), and the way it’s presented is pretty clunky. Then, of course, there is the portrayal of dissociative identity disorder. Is it insensitive or inaccurate? To answer that would spoil Shyamalan’s signature “twist,” so you’ll have to highlight this next part in order to see it [SPOILER ALERT] Based on the climax of the movie, it appears whatever Kevin suffers from isn’t dissociative identity disorder, but some sort of supernatural ability to not only be host to multiple personalities, but to change physically depending on the personality. When The Beast finally makes his appearance, Kevin’s muscles grow and his skin thickens, earning him near invincibility. He can easily climb walls and ceilings and receive multiple gunshots without being taken down. So because the antagonist doesn’t actually have this specific mental disorder, I can’t say it was portrayed insensitively, since technically it wasn’t what was being portrayed at all.

The twist doesn’t come out of nowhere- it’s hinted at during a session between Kevin and Dr. Fletcher- and, for people who are familiar with Shyamalan’s style, one could almost predict it from the plot summary alone (maybe not the exact details, but at least the general idea). As far as accuracy, Dr. Fletcher does discuss her research on physical changes in individuals with DID, some of which sounded pretty far-fetched, but upon further research (Google searches during my lunch break at work), I found that much of what she said in the movie is based on actual DID cases, so at least the little they did include regarding the actual disorder was mostly based in reality.

Split isn’t necessarily a major comeback for Shyamalan, but it’s still an interesting watch, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you want to see a solid acting performance

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

2014 Recap: 10 Favorite Female Performances of the Year

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As I’m still putting my finishing touches on my Top 10 list [it’s really quite an agonizing process], I decided to turn my focus on the performances I love from 2014. I initially drafted about underrated performers who I wish had gotten more love, but I think I’ll make that a ‘Question of the Week’ post instead as I’d like to hear what others would pick. In any case, casting and the actors’ performances can alter how I feel about a given film. In fact, they could even make or break a film. Well most of the time anyway, once in a while there comes a movie that not even a stellar cast or great performances can SAVE… *cough* Into The Woods *cough*

Let’s start with the ladies first, the Male Performances list will be posted later this month. This list is in alphabetical order, as it was tough enough to narrow ’em down to 10, let alone ranking them. So here goes:

1. Emily Blunt – Edge of Tomorrow, Into The Woods

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I’ve been a fan of miss Blunt for some time, but this is perhaps her first foray into sci-fi action thriller as a co-lead. She’s my pick of surprisingly-bad-ass-female-character in my Random 2014 Recap, though she was quite bad ass in Looper last year, too. There’s something about her character Rita Vrataski that immediately clicks with me. She’s a knock-out yet still has a warm & vulnerable vibe, she’s not some killing machine. That said, her repeated killing of Tom Cruise’s character is quite amusing 😉 In Into the Woods, she stretches her versatility further by singing as well as acting, and she does it wonderfully! In fact, her character is one of my few favorites from the movie, yes even more so than Meryl Streep’s!

2. Jessica ChastainThe Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

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Chastain is another favorite actress whom I discovered last year with her prolific turns in major films like Tree of Life, The Help, and Zero Dark Thirty. She’s one of those chameleon actress who reminds me of Cate Blanchett, and this film truly shows her chops. Her character Eleanor isn’t the most sympathetic and at times aggravating, yet her soulful performance makes her so captivating. Eleanor’s overwhelmed by her grief and Chastain conveyed that sense of repressed pain and anger so convincingly. It’s one of the year’s most poignant and powerful performances that sadly seems to have been overlooked by award pundits.

3. Marion CotillardThe Immigrant

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Miss Marion is truly a force to be reckoned with. She’s devastatingly beautiful and even fragile-looking but she carries certain inner strength that she often conveys in her eyes. I also love the fact that she seems to seek out non-glamorous roles, even though she manages to look even more beautiful sans makeup. There are actors who can act with just her eyes even when she is absolutely still, and Marion is one of those actors. That talent works wonderfully for her role as a Polish immigrant, Ewa. Her survival instinct is intriguing to watch here and makes you truly empathize with her agonizing journey.

4. Elizabeth Banks – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I

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Banks is one of those effortlessly charming and affable actress, which makes her absolutely perfect for the role of Effie Trinket. Her vivacious, flamboyant persona brings the character to life in such an entertaining way. Yet she makes her more than just some silly girl with a penchant for lavishly colorful outfits, in fact she brings so much heart to her role. It’s great to see Effie getting more screen time in this final part of the franchise. Forced to wear muted-colored jumpsuits, thrown into a fish-out-of-water experience, she still manages to steal scenes with her lively personality.

5. Keira KnightleyBegin Again

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Keira Knightley is a bit of a hit and miss for me. So far I’ve liked her mostly in period dramas (Pride & Prejudice, Atonement) but entirely miscast in Anna Karenina. But here it’s refreshing to see her as a plain jane, and not only that, she also proves to be a decent singer. In fact, her rendition of the soulful Like A Fool is one of my favorite scenes in the film (and one of my Top 5 Fave Movie Songs), it’s heart-wrenching without being at all schmaltzy. This could be her most likable — and relatable — role I’ve seen her in, and I could totally buy her as a struggling-yet-defiant indie musician. Her chemistry with Mark Ruffalo is endearing to watch, as sweet & lovely as the film itself that lingers with you long after the end credits roll.

6. Rosamund PikeGone Girl

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It’s impossible to make this list without having the impressive breakout performance from Rosamund Pike. It’s a bravura performance that’s sure to be talked about for years to come, a captivating female anti-hero you love to hate. Some actresses might not get this type of juicy role in their lifetime, so it’s nice to see that Pike took this opportunity and absolutely went to town with it. It’s a wonderfully layered and multidimensional character, infused with utter ruthlessness as well as astute comic timing.  What’s going to be most interesting is where would miss Pike go from here? I’d love to see her tackle an intricate role like this again instead of back to being stuck on playing second banana to some Hollywood A-listers.

7. Gugu Mbatha-RawBelleBeyond the Lights

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If there is one actress I’m so thrilled to discover this past year, without a doubt it’s Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I got a bit of a girl crush on her in Belle, as she totally owned the role of a mixed race girl navigating a complicated existence in 18th century England. Within the same year, in a completely different role, Gugu once again captivated me with her performance as Noni, a disillusioned Rihana-like pop star. Both characters require an actress who’s able to convey intense and complex emotions and she totally delivered. Her beauty and talent is simply mesmerizing. I have the same wish for her as I do miss Pike, it’d be a shame if she’s back to only playing the typical wife/girlfriend of some famous Hollywood actors.

8. Haley Lu RichardsonThe Young Kieslowski

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Haley may only be 19 years-old but she seems wise beyond her years. She has such a strong screen presence in this indie dramedy, as well displaying a great deal of range as a young teen who got knocked up. I got a chance to chat with Haley for an interview earlier this year and was delighted to see her vivacious personality. In the same year, she did an entirely different and grittier role in The Well, so obviously she’s quite a versatile actress. She seems at ease in either drama or comedy, it’s only a matter of time that Hollywood notices her soon.

9. Amy Ryan – Birdman

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Amy Ryan could be one of the most underrated actresses working today. I first noticed her in her Oscar-nominated role in Gone Baby Gone, but since then I only saw her in bit parts here and there, yet she always makes the most of it. Here she plays Michael Keaton’s Riggan’s ex-wife, and I really don’t know what to make of her at first. It may not be the juiciest roles of the entire ensemble, but she did get one of the most memorable lines when snaps at Riggan that he doesn’t know the difference between admiration and love. I also have to give a shout out to another notable performance she did in Breathe-In, Ryan certainly has a knack for elevating every role she’s given, no matter how small.

10. Tilda Swinton Snowpiercer

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Tilda Swinton‘s one of those chameleonic actresses who seems to relish in disappearing into a variety of different characters and this one is as quirky as they come. She’s barely recognizable here (and also in The Grand Budapest Hotel in a cameo) as Mason, a sadistic, tyrannical leader of the futuristic train. She’s a despicable character but Tilda’s always a hoot to watch, enthralling even, and perhaps the most entertainingly bizarre character I’ve seen in a while. It takes an astute performer to be scary and hilarious in the same breath, but that’s what Tilda’s capable of, and her screen presence is off the charts.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

These lovely ladies also made quite an impression on me, even if some of the films aren’t exactly stellar. In fact, some of these performances even eclipsed the film they appear in and therefore making them more watchable. In others, they elevate the already great roles they’re given and made the film all the richer for it.

Here they are in random order:

  • Cate BlanchettThe Monuments Men
  • Andrea RiseboroughBirdman
  • Felicity JonesBreathe-In
  • Rinko KikuchiKumiko, the Treasure Hunter
  • Eva GreenSin City 2: A Dame to Kill For
  • Angelina JolieMaleficent
  • Mackenzie FoyInterstellar
  • Elizabeth RobertsOld Fashioned
  • Kim Dickens – Gone Girl
  • Carmen EjogoSelma


Thoughts on these performances? Which one(s) of these stood out to you from the past year?

TCFF 2014 Wrap Up & Final Awards: The Imitation Game, Time Lapse, Stray Dog Doc, Solitude & More!

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Oh boy, what a thrilling, fun and exhilarating 10 days it’s been!! Pardon the late Closing Night recap, I stayed up pretty late last night at the Closing Night party, as I missed the past few years’ festivities. It’s so awesome that this year we’ve got a great spot for our Nightly Mixer at the Shops at West End, just a few doors down from The Showplace ICON Theatres! It’s definitely been a great success once again, woot woot!

This is the fifth year I’ve been covering TCFF and I have to say this is truly the BEST year I’ve had. Of course it seems that I say that every year but this year is absolutely amazing. I’m so glad I got the chance to chat with many great filmmakers and talents who are all gracious and friendly that made every interview such a joy. Special thanks to Haley Lu Richardson, Rik Swartzwelder, Drea Clark, Jonathan Ehlers, Patrick Ward-Perkins, Molly Ryman, Tyler Noble, George Finn & Bradley King for taking the time to chat with me during the Film Fest! I’ve always got butterflies in my stomach before I go into any interview, but my qualms/nervousness quickly disappear as soon as I met each talent. It’s been a blessing to be a part of this great organization, so Jatin, Bill, Steve, Dani, Naomi, etc. I really mean what I said in my tweet last night …


I also want to thank all the blogging contributors Sarah Johnson, Josh Petitt and Adam Wells. I wouldn’t have been able to do all those interviews AND do every single review, so MASSIVE THANKS for all your help, guys!

So here are this year’s winners of TCFF 2014 Awards!

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The Twin Cities Film Fest bestowed eight films, two artists and one local community leader with awards late Saturday evening during a star-studded ceremony in downtown St. Louis Park. Leading the roster of winners was The Imitation Game, the World War II espionage thriller starring Benedict Cumberbatch as mathematician Alan Turing that is widely considered to be a frontrunner for the year-end awards race. The film took home the festival’s trophy for Best Feature Film. (See the festival’s complete list of 2014 finalists, which were announced Oct. 23)

Also honored: Keira Knightley, winner of the TCFF North Star Award for Excellence for her performances in two official festival selections: Laggies and The Imitation Game. “When you see this body of work paired together, there’s no denying the acting force that is Keira Knightley,” said TCFF Artistic Director Steven Snyder. “There’s such a range of talent on display here – funny, heroic, vulnerable, defiant, haunted, and always compelling. She breathes life into personalities and perspectives that are worlds apart – and yet proves charming, charismatic and irresistible every time out.” Hear, hear!

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The independent sci-fi thriller Time Lapse walked off with the festival’s Indie Vision: Breakthrough Film award. Debra Granik’s Stray Dog – the director’s follow-up to her Oscar-nominated narrative film “Winter’s Bone” – won Best Documentary. And Andrew Kightlinger’s Destroyer was selected as the year’s best short film.

Local film industry legend Al Milgrom was also honored Saturday evening, bestowed with a star on the Minnesota Walk of Fame, in recognition of a career spent importing and celebrating world cinema for the Twin Cities film community. Milgrom founded Minneapolis’ University Film Society in 1962 and later launched the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival in 1983.

Dani Palmer with Al Milgrom at Closing Night Party
Dani Palmer with Al Milgrom at Closing Night Party

Saturday evening’s ceremony marked the culmination of the 10-day festival, which screened more than 75 titles – a mix of independent premieres and Hollywood sneak peeks – at the Showplace ICON Theatres. In addition to the annual October festival, the Minnesota-based non-profit organizes year-round programming, as well as industry networking events and educational opportunities. Learn more at twincitiesfilmfest.org.

The complete list of 2014 winners:

Best Feature Film: The Imitation Game (dir. Morten Tyldum)
Runner-Up: Ink & Steel (dir. Jonathan Ehlers and Patrick Ward-Perkins)
Audience Award – Feature: Solitude (dir. Taylor Scott Olson and Livingston Oden)
Runner-Up: The Last Time You Had Fun (dir. Mo Perkins)
Audience Award – Short: Sad Clown (dir. Jason P. Schumacher)
Runner-Up: My Last Breath (dir. Cy Dodson)
Audience Award – Documentary: Scouts Honor: Inside A Marching Brotherhood (dir. Mac Smith & Tom Tollefsen)
Runner-Up: The Syndrome (dir. Meryl Goldsmith)
Indie Vision Award – Breakthrough Film: Time Lapse (dir. Bradley King)
Runner-Up: BFFs (dir. Andrew Putschoegl)
Indie Vision Award – Breakthrough Performance: Haley Lu Richardson, Actress “The Well” and “The Young Kieslowski”
Runner-Up: Eliza Coupe, Actress, “The Last Time You Had Fun”
Best Short Film: Destroyer (dir. Andrew Kightlinger)
Runner-Up: My Last Breath (dir. Cy Dodson)
Best Documentary: Stray Dog (dir. Debra Granik)
Runner-Up: The Immortalists (dir. David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg)
TCFF North Star Award for Excellence: Keira Knightley, for performances in “The Laggies” and “The Imitation Game”
TCFF-Minnesota Walk of Fame Award: Filmmaker Al Milgrom
Twin Cities Community Change Maker Award: Vednita Carver, executive director of Breaking Free. (BreakingFree.net)

 


Well the film fest may be over but I’ve still got a few more reviews I’ll be posting (The Imitation Game, Wild, Time Lapse, etc.) as well as my interview with The Last Time You Had Fun producer Drea Clark + George Finn & Bradley King from Time Lapse!


Thanks so much to all who have been reading my TCFF coverage!

TCFF 2014 Day 4: Wild Canaries, Just Before I Go & double reviews of The Young Kieslowski

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Woo hoo! We are already halfway into the film fest… and there are still exciting films to look forward to. Stay tuned for more TCFF coverage here, there’s a dedicated TCFF tab with all the links to articles and reviews.

Here’s what’s in store today for #TCFF14 Day Six


Red Carpet Events – 21st Host – Geoff Briley

5:00pm: To Say Good Bye – Tim Torabpour/Cast/Crew
7:45pm: Solitude – Taylor Scott Olson, Livingston Oden/Cast/Crew


And here are the reviews from Day 4 …

Wild Canaries

Part “Big Brother” and part “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” the new movie from independent filmmakers Sophia Takal and Lawrence Michael Levine amiably mix the relationship problems of a group of 30-something New Yorkers with a madcap whodunit. Wild Canaries, which had its world premiere earlier this year at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, is not only written and directed by Levine and produced by Takal but also stars the duo who are married in real life.

Barri (Takal) and Noah (Levine) live with an assorted cast of characters in a Brooklyn apartment building where someone, amateur sleuth Barri suspects, has murdered their elderly neighbor who lived in a rent controlled apartment. The main plot takes awhile to get started and I began to think I was watching a stream of consciousness tale about the trials and tribulations of young people living in the big city. (“Is 8:30 too late?” Barri asks her neighbor while inviting him over for dinner.)

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Somehow Levine manages to mix a variety of story lines (a failing movie distribution business he runs with an ex-girlfriend, a neighbor’s fight over their daughter with his ex-wife and Barri and their roommate’s plans to rehab a resort are just a few) with a screwball murder comedy- something that can be tricky to pull off without getting too dark or schmaltzy. They incorporate fun tributes to “Columbo” (in one scene, Barri is running around in a tan trench coat, floppy hat and sunglasses) and New York (in another, Barri opens her neighbor’s door using her Metrocard). 

Takal and Levine shine in their roles as the slightly neurotic drama queen and the world weary, put upon husband (“Acting weird is not a crime,” Levine points out after Takal mentions a neighbor’s shady demeanor). I would say they have an easy, natural chemistry (in one scene, Takal scolds Levine while flossing her teeth before bed) but wouldn’t you hope so since they are married?

Levine also incorporates a simple technique some moviemakers forget is important after one has invested 1 ½ hours in your product: he actually tells you what happened at the end. (Yes, I know for some it’s part of their craft to leave an audience guessing… you can disagree with me for preferring a resolution.) Not to say the end is boring – a head spinning explanation in movies such as “Wild Canaries” can also leave you guessing. As Barri and Noah’s roommate Jean (Alia Shawkat) says near the end, “Wow. Some people lead such exciting lives.”

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Just Before I Go

This film is the directorial debut from famous actress Courteney Cox. It centers around a man named Ted Morgan, played by Minnesota native Seann William Scott, who wants to kill himself when his wife leaves him for another man. Ted moves back home to reconnect make amends with people from his childhood before he takes his life.

Scott, who’s known for his comedic roles in such films as American Pie, takes on this role very differently and almost seems like a turning point in his careers as we finally get to see a wider range of acting skills. For most of the comedy in this movie he plays a straight man with the people around him having the funny lines and actions.

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The movie also stars Olivia Thirlby, who plays Greta, who discovers Ted’s plan to off himself and wants to document it and have it be his suicide note. Her character is the voice of the audience as she asks the questions the audience is probably thinking that aren’t addressed in Ted’s narration at the start of the film. Thrilby is great in this film as she is able to balance comedy and heart through her time on screen.

Just Before I Go is about a man wanting commit suicide but it isn’t a movie that makes light of suicide as Ted Morgan isn’t a depressed man he just doesn’t have a reason to live anymore and his journey in this film is about him finding a reason to go on living. So before you decide to skip this film because it is about a man wanting to commit suicide, do realize it really isn’t about that, it is about the people in his life, with very funny moments spread throughout all 95 minutes of it.

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The Young Kieslowski

– Josh’s Review –

A genre-bending romantic comedy, The Young Kieslowski is a quality production, one worthy of full-scale theatrical release. It details Brian Kieslowski’s (Ryan Malagrini) coming of age, both emotional and sexual, during several months of a single year in college. Throughout the film, Brian grapples with his mother’s (Melora Walters, magnificent) pending death, a complicated relationship with love-interest Leslie Mallard (Haley Lu Richardson), Mallard’s unsupportive celebrity father (James Le Gros, even better than Walters), and his own emotional immaturity.

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Insofar as he shoulders much of The Young Kieslowski’s emotional weight and an equal dose of its comedy, Brian is a challenging role for Malagrini, but the young actor proves more than capable, especially in the scenes he shares with Richardson. Of course, that has much to do with Malagrini’s co-star; Richardson’s work in The Young Kieslowski is borderline revelatory, especially when one also considers her turn in The Well (where she is equally good). Why? The two characters are very different. Playing both of them requires range, and Richardson proves she has it.

As does The Young Kieslowski’s writer/director Karem Sanga. Here Sanga proves adept at shifting genres. Early, this picture appears to be a teen-sex comedy, but then it rapidly shifts to rom-com, before changing again to be a coming-of-age tale. From there it cycles between the latter two, never straying too far from either, but also never hewing so closely as to be frustratingly predictable.

That isn’t to say the film is perfect. A fantasy sequence during a ‘key lime pie event’ is out of place. Moreover, the project loses a little energy when Mallard is off screen for extended periods.

But The Young Kieslowski, is very good, even borderline excellent, and certainly worth viewing.

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– Ruth’s Review –

One of my favorite parts about film festivals is that I get to see indie gems you otherwise might overlook. The Young Kieslowski is one of those I’m glad I got to see, and I’m certainly glad to be introduced to such talents as Ryan Malgarini and Haley Lu Richardson, the two young stars of the film.

The movie begins with Brian Kieslowski at the dinner table, getting the bird & the bees talk from his mother who’s battling cancer just before he’s off to Cal Tech. Right from the start, you know that this film imbues difficult subjects such as terminal illness and teen pregnancy, with mirth and humor. I immediately sympathize with Brian, Malgarini has such a quirky & likable quality about him that is fun to watch. But the story pretty much starts at a typical college party, where booze and hormone collides, a tricky combo bound to create tricky predicaments. Brian meets Leslie Mallard, obviously drunk even as she professes that she’s going to save herself for marriage. Alas, the two ended up hooking up, and wouldn’t you know it, Leslie gets pregnant… with twins!

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The story is nothing groundbreaking, yet writer/director Kerem Sanga presents it makes it seem fresh and delightfully engaging. The scene where Brian finds out about the pregnancy is hilarious, but it wasn’t done in a flippant way as it really made you think about how’d you feel if you were in their shoes. Apparently this topic is a personal one for him, as he and his twin brother were born when their parents were in college. He’s done well with casting young talents like Malgarini and Richardson who made their characters so easy to root for that I was quickly immersed in their journey. Oh and what a journey it was! Of course the toughest part is breaking the news to their parents, and the scenarios are played with humor as well as poignancy. Tough subjects such as abortion isn’t delivered with such heavy-handed or preachy manner, but it’s a natural progression of what both characters have to face and deal with. It seems at first that the subject of faith was to be explored, however, it was dismissed as casually as it was introduced.

I also notice how diverse the cast of The Young Kieslowski was, and the relatively inexperienced actors playing Brian/Leslie’s friends actually did a pretty decent job here. Joshua Malina & Melora Walters as Brian’s parents, as well as Minneapolis-born character actor extraordinaire James Le Gross lend a strong supporting cast. The revelatory star is definitely Haley Lu Richardson, who displays the most range as well as strong screen presence. She definitely has leading lady quality and I hope Hollywood notices her soon. Kudos to Sanga for creating such a delightful, funny and poignant story that teens and adults would enjoy. I appreciate that he’s not afraid to go into some dark moments, such as when Brian trembling at the thought of losing his mother, without having to follow that up with some silly humor. The movie also moves along at a nice pace, and at 94 min, this charming comedy never overstays its welcome.

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Check out FlixChatter’s exclusive interview w/ Haley Lu Richardson as she discussed getting her part in her feature film debut in The Well, and tidbits on filming The Young Kieslowski.


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Individual tickets are on sale now at twincitiesfilmfest.org


Have you seen any of these films? What did you think?

TCFF 2014 Day 3 Reviews: These Hopeless Savages, 3 Nights in the Desert, The Well and House of Manson

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The festivities continues at Twin Cities Film Fest! Weekends are always super busy at the Showplace ICON Theatres at the West End, but even more so with all the hustle and bustle of the TCFF crowds. A bunch of Midwest Premieres took place last night, featuring Q&A following films such as These Hopeless Savages, Old Fashioned, BFFs, The Well, and a huge cast & crew in attendance for the first of two sold out screening of House of Manson.


The second screening of House of Manson on Monday night at 9:30pm is already SOLD OUT … but, no fret, TCFF will have a RUSH LINE available for every “sold out” screening. We typically are able to accommodate anyone waiting in line. So, before you decide not to come, please do consider the Rush Line! The Rush Line is located across from the TCFF Offices on the Main Level of the Shops at West End, right below the theater lobby.


Now here are the reviews from Day 3…

These Hopeless Savages

Similar to Alexander Payne’s Nebraska (2013), These Hopeless Savages is a road movie doubling as a relationship drama. In this case, the focus is on Shawn (co-director/co-producer/co-writer/star Sean Christopher Lewis) and Greg (co-writer/star Matt Delapina), childhood friends who have lost touch over the years. Shawn believes he’s won $50,000, which he can claim by traveling from New York to Iowa, and he wants Greg’s help. Though Greg doubts the money’s authenticity, he agrees, for personal reasons, and the two embark in Shawn’s sedan. These Hopeless Savages documents their cross-country journey, along which they encounter several eccentric characters.

In so doing, the film is often funny, particularly in scene’s including Greg’s girlfriend, Nicki (Mackenzi Meehan). Meehan’s deadpan delivery and her chemistry with Delapina are both striking, indeed so much so that she is the film’s greatest merit. Which is saying something, because the cast is universally strong. The picture’s visual style is impressive, as well; directors Kaitlyn Busbee and Lewis use minimalist camera movements and wide image frames to create a realistic tone, one which helps push forward the plot.

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Unfortunately, These Hopeless Savages stumbles at various points. First, we never understand why Shawn believes the $50,000 actually exists. Unlike Nebraska’s Woody, Shawn’s mental faculties are not deteriorating, so what gives him such confidence? It helps that Lewis and Delapina, as writers, hint, at various points, that the money isn’t Shawn’s actual motivation, but the idea is undercooked and then contradicted when the protagonists reach their destination. Moreover, neither of these characters change. They start emotionally damaged, and they end that way. They start with particular character flaws, and they end with the same. Their stories feel unfinished, even in a picture less about individuals than relationships.

For all of that, These Hopeless Savages has enough humor, good acting and quality directing to make it immersive and entertaining. It is far from great, but it is also far from bad.   

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The Well

Though too predictable and too faithful to genre, The Well, is filled with enchanting cinematography and even more atmospheric intensity. The picture, which is written by Jacob Forman and director Thomas S. Hammock, depicts an apocalyptic world fatally short on water. Living in this world is Kendal (Haley Lu Richardson, excellent), who struggles to rebuild an airplane while simultaneously caring for her ill childhood friend, Dean (Booboo Stewart, even better than Richardson) and a youth named Alby (Max Charles, underused), whom she’s found living alone. She must also fend off many rivals, some of them in search of water, and some of them employees of a nefarious company.

In part because of the actor playing her, Kendal makes a compelling protagonist, but she is not the most interesting character here. That is the primary villain, Carson (played empathetically by Jon Gries), who is layered by love for his daughter, Brooke (Nicole Fox) and remorse. When Carson and Kendal finally speak to each other, it is a riveting scene, indeed, one that rewards the viewer with fascinating dialogue between two multi-dimensional characters.

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Hammock’s visuals are just as rewarding, as is his ability to create tension, both through audio and image frames. At times, The Well’s obviously low budget hurts the picture, especially when Hammock uses CGI to create blood or fire, but mostly the director overcomes financial limitations.

A handful of exposition-heavy scenes between Carson and Brooke prove bigger flaws. As does Brooke’s characterization. She is so underdeveloped as to be almost senseless. Finally, during what should be the film’s most impacting moments, Kendal successfully hides from her enemies, but only because Carson doesn’t follow previous patterns of behavior. In another should-be-impacting sequence Kendal behaves differently than she has before. These moments border on character breaking, and thereby disengage the viewer, at least for a time.

Still, The Well succeeds far more than it fails. It deserves a recommendation.

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Check out FlixChatter’s exclusive interview w/ Haley Lu Richardson as she discussed getting her part in her feature film debut, and the challenges of filming The Well.


3 Nights in the Desert 

A middling drama about old friends/bandmates reuniting after several years without contact, 3 Nights in the Desert neither impresses nor offends. It simply exists.

Tax attorney Barry (Vincent Piazza) and musician Anna (Amber Tamblyn) travel to the California desert, where their defunct band’s former guitarist, Travis (Wes Bentley), now lives. Ostensibly the three are fulfilling a long-ago promise to collectively celebrate their thirtieth birthdays, but Travis has a manipulative motive, Anna has personal issues never fully explained, and Barry doesn’t want to admit he pines for the past, even while he also rages at it.

All three actors do well with what they’re given, especially Tamblyn, who makes an underdeveloped character feel almost real. Unfortunately, writer Adam Chanzit and director Gabriel Cowan don’t give them much. First, the characters are sketches, not multi-dimensional figures. Second, the plot is boilerplate, offering a standard love-triangle, and equally standard reflection on idealism versus pragmatism. Some forced symbolism and a repeated metaphor (a supposedly mystical cave) don’t help either.

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Yet, 3 Nights in the Desert isn’t bad. Sure the opening voice over explains relationship dynamics Chanzit and Cowan would have been wise to show us, and sure nothing here surprises or enlightens, but the actors still capture attention, the occasional music is quite good, and the picture’s pacing (a run time just over eighty minutes) is crisp enough to ensure the narrative never grows stale. Plus, the director and his crew skillfully photograph some gorgeous California scenery.

In the end, do I recommend 3 Nights in the Desert? Not really. But it needn’t be avoided either.

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House of Manson 

House of Manson is a film that chronicles the life of Charles Manson and focuses in on the events leading up to and including the Sharon Tate murders of 1969. Unlike other Charles Manson biopics that focus in on the sex or the over the top nature of the Tate murder, this one focuses in Charles Manson’s influence and connection with his followers, the Manson family as they call themselves.

Charles Manson is portrayed by Minnesota born actor Ryan Kiser, who returns for the second year in a row to Twin Cities Film Fest. Last year Kiser co-starred in the horror film Truth or Dare and this year he brings the fest the world premiere of House of Manson. Kiser approached the character in a very serious tone and does a fantastic job conveying the crazy yet brilliant way Charles Manson was able to draw followers into his cult.

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Devanny Pinn co-stars as one of Manson’s followers Susan Atkins and gives a chilling performance as her screen presence is freaky. Pinn truly becomes Atkins on screen as the facial reactions make you think this women is completely off her rocker and has no moral compass at all.  An overall amazing performance by Pinn.

This film does suffer from some technical flaws as the sound isn’t completely smoothed and could use some more attention by a sound mixer. The filmmakers even admitted in a Q&A following the world premiere that some of the sound transitions were going to need to be looked at. The film also has a saturated look that doesn’t look completely intentional. The image doesn’t pop off the screen as some movies do that have a more crisp and sharp look to it.

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Overall, the film is a great portrayal of the events surrounding the infamous Charles Manson. It doesn’t get too crude or violent as previous films about the same subject matter, it takes the source material as it is and conveys the story in a very tasteful matter. With a great cast and direction by Brandon Slagle, House of Manson is definitely worth checking out when it later finds distribution.

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Stay tuned for reviews from Day 4!


TCFFtickets

Individual tickets are on sale now at twincitiesfilmfest.org


Have you seen any of these films? What did you think?

TCFF 2014 Day 2 Reviews: Father-Like Son, The Last Time You Had Fun, V/H/S: Viral

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Day 3 is nearly gone and I just finally got a chance to put something together for the blog! It’s quite a whirlwind day for me today. I had a prior commitment in the AM in St. Cloud but we somehow made it back in time for the Actors Panel, one of the educational panels that I always look forward to every year. This year we’ve got three awesome guests whose films are playing tonight: Sean Maher (BFFs), Haley Lu Richardson (The Well) and Ryan Kiser (House of Manson). The panel was moderated by actress Marisa Coughlan (Super Troopers, Space Station 76). It was quite an insightful event as you learn how they got into show business, and the high/low of being an actor, etc.


And here are the reviews from Day 2…

Father-Like Son

Let’s just say the script in “Father-Like Son” doesn’t beat around the bushes. Written by and starring Mac Alsfeld and Andrew Megison and featuring Alsfeld in his directorial debut, it tells the story of Clark, a 24 year old wannabe writer living at home with his widowed mother and her new husband Dan, who happens to be Clark’s age but nonetheless aspires to be a father figure to Clark.

The first line in the movie is Dan popping into Clark’s room “Hey there dude, you got any condoms I can borrow? Your mother claims to have had a hysterectomy but I don’t buy all that science fiction bull.” And the movie goes downhill from there, resulting in an endless stream of immature, unfunny jokes.

(About 20 minutes into this movie I started thinking, “This is like The Hangover. Except not funny.”) Another scene involves Dan, a self-proclaimed “inventor,” showing off his latest creation – the Okey Dookey, a poop-shaped plastic toy you can hide a key in.

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A subplot involves Clark getting a job in a used bookstore, where we meet fellow employee Emily (Molly Canarro) and Peaches (Peaches Davis), the little old lady who owns the place. Emily’s feisty retorts playing off Peaches’s sweet charm were a breath of fresh air. The movie attempts to turn maudlin toward the end with Clark struggling to come to terms with his father’s death but it was hard to care at that point after a mind numbing parade of juvenile man jokes. (To get back at Dan, one of Clark’s friends suggests that he cut up his dog and leave body parts all over the house.)

It is shows like this that remind me of what critics sometimes say if they really don’t want people to waste their time: I watch these movies so you don’t have to. I understand that I am not the target audience for this kind of show but in my opinion I would suggest you pick another movie to enjoy at the Twin Cities Film Fest.

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The Last Time You Had Fun

Story takes place in a single night, mostly in a limo rented by a guy named Will (Demetri Martin), supposedly to celebrate his college buddy Clark’s (Kyle Bornheimer) divorce. These two buddies can’t be more different from each other, even from the way they’re dressed. Will is a preppy lawyer and Clark is a teacher can’t seem to get out of his sweatpants. As we later learned, Clark’s divorce left him for another woman. Because of his friend’s persistence and his young kids’ insistence that he needs to get out of the house once in a while, Clark reluctantly agrees to go, so long as there’s no strip club involved. They ended up at a wine bar, Clark’s pick, and there they run into two sisters. Will dares Clark to pick up those women and he only agrees to do it just so he could go home.

The foursome end up hanging out together in the bar and later share a limo going as aimlessly as they go about their own lives. The two sisters are Alison (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), who appears to be the sensible one, married with a young daughter. She’s always patient to lend an ear to the drama queen of a sister Ida (Eliza Coupe), who’s in the middle of a nasty divorce.

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As the title says, most of the characters can’t seem to remember when was the last time they had fun. The bickering between four dysfunctional adults are comical in their honesty about how they feel about themselves and each other. Everyone’s got issues, one seems more messed up than the other. As the night wears on, more layers of their personality is peeled off as inhibitions slowly diminish. In fact, they go more restless, bolder and crazier, much to the chagrin of the snappy limo driver (Charlyne Yi) who have to put up with their shenanigans. One of the funniest scenes is when they try to get some weed, resulting in the most bizarre scenario of the entire film. Character actor Jimmi Simpson has one of those faces you recognize in a bunch of films/TV series. The sexual experiment scenario is played mostly for laughs but yet it’s not a throwaway scene as it’s in keeping with the adventurous theme of the story.

The film’s tiny budget shows in the production quality, but the honest, funny and engaging dialog and naturalistic performances from the entire cast make up for it. The two male actors fare slightly better IMO, you can’t help but root for them despite their flaws. There are some slow parts and some of the dialog seem clunky to me, but overall I think Mo Perkins‘ sophomore effort is a pretty good one. I like how the script by Hal Haberman plays with our perceptions/prejudices of the characters as they don’t always behave in the way they predict they would.

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V/H/S: Viral

V/H/S: Viral is the third movie in the V/H/S series that was started in 2012. The V/H/S movies are anthology films made with mostly found footage films that are edited to play together with an overarching plot that sort of works at connecting them all to play after each other. The previous two installments (V/H/S and V/H/S 2) were very enjoyable in their concept and new takes on found footage through the use of spy glasses cam and GoPro cams.

This time, the overarching plot that is seen between each short film, entitled “Vicious Circles”, is about a man on chasing his girlfriend who has been kidnapped by an ice cream truck which is also being chased by the police. This short that is broken up over the length of the film is quite good at showing the environment on how the entire city is on alert and watching this police chase.  Of the three V/H/S films this overarching plot is the weakest at not only connecting all the films together, as well as being a driving force throughout the whole film. It was different to show a bigger environment to connect rather than show people just watching the other shorts on VHS tapes as was done in the first two V/H/S movies.

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The first short is called “Dante The Great” and is the first time that breaks the complete found footage form in the V/H/S series as it is more of a mockumentary about a magician who owns a truly magical cloak. If you have been following the V/H/S series, this short can catch you off guard as it is not completely found footage and features interview throughout it while cutting to found footage. This short works really well and is the easiest to follow and was fun take on the mockumentary form.

“Parallel Monsters” is a short that involves alternate dimensions as a man opens a door to an alternate dimension that seems almost the same to ours but slowly as he explores it and switches with his alternate dimensional double, is not as similar as once thought. The characters in this short only speak Spanish which adds a new cultural flair that is done quite well. This short is the most detailed in terms of showing how weird the alternate world is that is being explored of the 3 shorts in V/H/S: Viral, not counting the overarching “Vicious Circles.”

The final short is entitled “Bonestorm” and shows some teenage skateboarders who venture down to Tijuana to film a skating video with a combination of regular video cameras and GoPro cameras. Things get out of hand when the area they are skating attracts some unwanted pagan worshippers.  This short was very action packed and didn’t have any lull points and used the short amount of time to its full potential. The actors gave great performances and the special effects that are needed later in the short are quite impressive.

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Overall, V/H/S: Viral is a good, not great, addition to the V/H/S series. While it still has a smaller distrubution method due to the studio putting it out, Magnet Releasing, which is limited on its resources on getting this movie to the public. Fans who have seen the previous two entries will enjoy this addition to the series. Those who are new to the series might need time adjusting to its scattered nature of being an anthology film that doesn’t transition easily between the stories it is telling.

V/H/S: Viral will be available on Video On Demand on October 23 and in select theaters on November 6.

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Stay tuned for reviews from Day 3 tomorrow!


TCFFtickets

Individual tickets are on sale now at twincitiesfilmfest.org


Have you seen any of these films? What did you think?

TCFF 2014 Day 2 – Interview with Haley Lu Richardson

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One of my fave parts of blogging for TCFF is the opportunity to meet talents whose films are playing at the film fest. Most especially when you meet someone as talented, vivacious and gracious as Haley Lu Richardson.

She has two VERY different films, one is an apocalyptic thriller, The Well, and the other is a teen pregnancy comedy, The Young Kieslowski. That alone is a major accomplishment, but even more so the fact that The Well is her feature film debut. Now, I have seen the latter and no doubt the 19-year-old is a talented young actress poised for stardom.

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Haley in The Well and The Young Kieslowski

Screen charisma is not something an actor can really train for and Haley’s got that in spades. What impresses me most is her versatility, which is what every good actor should have in their arsenal. So check out how Haley got her start and what role she’d like to tackle on next.


FCInterviewBannerI arrived about 10 min early and she was already there as her previous interview got done early. Even at 9:30 in the morning, she’s already looking fresh and bubbly that I immediately feel comfortable chatting with you. I knew it’d be a fun interview, but of course life is not complete without snafus once in a while right? Well, I might’ve had too much fun chatting with her that for whatever reason, either I didn’t turn on my iPhone recorder properly or I accidentally deleted our conversation but that’s what happened. Ah well, so I had to do my best transcribing from my notes and memory 😉

Q: So Haley, ow did you get into acting?

A: I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, got into competitive dancing and was into that for a while. [per IMDb, She was a member of Cannedy Performing Arts competitive dance company for 8 years and has won prestigious titles such as ‘National Dancer of the Year” and the ‘Peoples Choice Award’ at the Young Artist’s competition.] And with dancing, there’s a bit of emoting required as you’re performing, which makes me think about going into acting. So I had a long talk with my parents over the dinner table. I even made a Powerpoint citing the pros and cons about going into the acting business, etc. Fortunately they’re quite supportive and in 2011, my mother and I moved to LA so I could pursue acting. I was also lucky that I was able to secure an agent that got me into some projects. I did a TV movie called Christmas Twister and a few TV projects before I got the chance to audition for The Well.

Q: How was that audition process go for The Well?

A: Normally the audition goes through casting agents and/or through a talent agency but at the time I was so hungry for work that I submitted my tape to an online casting site and though they normally don’t go that route in finding talents, somehow they found me.

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Q: Your character Kendal rarely says what she’s thinking. She is a doer, not a talker. How do you come to approach that kind of character?

Tom [Director Thomas S. Hammock] and Jacob [writer Jacob Forman] and I had a long chat about the story and character, they really took the time to help me get into Kendal’s head. Plus the setting in a barren landscape of the Mojave Desert [about 4 hours north of LA] looks like a real dystopian place so that definitely helps me get into the mindset of a girl trying to survive.

Q: How much training did you do for the action sequences, was that hard to get to do all the fight scenes? 

Yes, it was pretty intense. I had never held a gun before in my life and it’s really quite scary. I had to practice in the shooting range and even though you’re shooting blanks, I’m still fully aware what a dangerous weapon it was. It’s also quite heavy and I had to shoot several rounds. Whenever I’m walking around though, I usually just carry the plastic thing, but when I’m filming a scene, I had to use a real gun with blanks.

Q: There have been several dystopian young adult movies produced over the last several years. Apart from The Well doubling as a revenge tale, what did you do to make sure The Well was different from the other projects?

I think there are definitely similarities in that movies like Hunger Games, Divergent, etc. deal with a young person being put into a situation where they have to fend for themselves. But I’d say that The Well is a quieter movie. There’s not non-stop action or explosions, but a lot of time for the character to reflect on things and the music is also understated to help set the mood. I think it’s a more intimate and even personal film, as it’s more about Kendal’s journey and how she must protect the last remaining well in order for her to survive

Q: Now moving on to your second film The Young Kieslowski, how did you get this part, did you have to audition for the role of Leslie Mallard also?

Fortunately, the same producer [Seth Caplan] that did The Well offered me the part as I was working on that film. And since the stories are so different, that appealed to me. I then met with the writer/director Kerem Sanga and he agreed to cast me, so that was great! Then it took some time for us to cast the role of Brian Kieslowski so it’s cool to be on the other side, the fact that I was already cast. So I had to read with these other actors. I don’t think I had much say in the casting of Brian but I think we knew early on Ryan Malgarini was perfect for the part. He had the right look, down to his hair and everything.

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Q: The Young Kieslowski is centered on Ryan Malagrini’s character, Brian. You are given significantly less screen time. Yet, you make Leslie as multi-dimensional as the male protagonist. What did you focus on doing as you played Leslie?

If I think too much about a certain character then I think it would screw me up. I don’t know that I’ve ever totally become someone else I’m playing, there’s always a bit of me in that character, even if I had never been in her situation, y’know, I never went to college nor have I ever been pregnant. It’s a pretty emotionally challenging role but I just tried to imagine what it’d be like being in her shoes, having to grow up faster than normal given the circumstances. 

The story is actually a personal one for [director] Kerem as his parents had him and his twin brother in college. So he definitely helps me a lot in processing the story and what he wants out of the character.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Q: How was filming that childbirth scene like? Were you nervous about filming that?

No actually that’s one of the main reasons I signed on to do this film. I saw it as kind of a challenge, wow I got to give birth! My parents and I actually watched all these real childbirth videos for research. Filming the scene itself was also a lot of fun to do. The woman who was helping me in the delivery room was actually a pediatrician so she helped me figure out what to do. My voice was gone by the end of filming as I was screaming so much, but it was a lot of fun filming that scene. 

One of the most challenging part is actually wearing the pregnancy suit as they weigh it to make sure it looks realistic. It was really heavy and Kerem had me go up and down the stairs so I get the wobbly walk right and everything.

Q: Ok, last question, but I’m curious that now that you’ve done a futuristic dystopian thriller, a drama and comedy, so what genre or certain role are you interested in tackling next?

A: I like stories that felt real, playing someone you can relate to. So not something too out of this world or improbable. I’d love to play a drug addict, a transformative role that I can really sink my teeth into. 

 


 Check out Haley’s Films at TCFF

The Well

Sat Oct. 18th, 8:30pm


The Young Kieslowski

Sun, Oct. 19th, 3:00pm


Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me, Haley.
I wish you all the best in your career!

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Hope you enjoyed the interview. Stay tuned for Day 2 reviews tomorrow!