Cheers Virtual Cinema! Minnesota Film Festivals go online

In this strange and difficult times, it’s particularly tough for movie fans everywhere as movie theaters are closed and new movies are being delayed as we’re all in lockdown mode. But hey, I just thought how we should still be grateful we live in the age of the internet! Imagine if this happened in a time where there’s no online content to help us cope and escape from our every day life… I mean Coronavirus or not, I honestly can’t imagine life without having internet access!

The MSPIFF tag line for this year’s fest is ​Adjust Your View… I can’t imagine whoever came up with that has a crystal ball to predict that we’ll be in this um, predicament. Nor would that person realize how fitting that tagline as the audience is called to adjust our view as to how to experience a film festival. Per this MNDaily article, The MSP Film Society’s Virtual Cinema Collection platform, which went live March 20, offers access to what programming director Jesse Bishop calls “festival-style content.” It will be open 1-3 new movies every Friday, with most films running for at least two weeks. Ticket prices range from $10 to $12, and films are available for viewing anywhere from 48 hours to a few days after purchase, depending on the film. Here are just a small sampling of the lineup…

BALLOON

A thriller-like true story of one of the most spectacular escapes of the 20th Century.

With a theatrical release to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Germany’s reunification, Balloon is based on the true events of one of the most daring escapes of the Cold War in which two families living in Communist East Germany sailed over the heavily fortified border in a homemade hot-air balloon.


THE ROADS NOT TAKEN

Now this one is by an acclaimed female director with a star-studded cast!

Sally Potter’s The Roads Not Taken follows a day in the life of Leo (Javier Bardem) and his daughter, Molly (Elle Fanning) as she grapples with the challenges of her father’s chaotic mind. While they weave their way through New York City, Leo’s journey takes on a hallucinatory quality as he floats through alternate lives he could have lived, leading Molly to wrestle with her own path as she considers her future. Also starring Salma Hayek and Laura Linney.

 


The Etruscan Smile will be ready for home viewing starting tomorrow. I love Brian Cox, so definitely intrigued by this.

The Etruscan Smile stars Brian Cox (HBO’s Succession and recent Broadway leading man in The Great Society) as Rory MacNeil, a rugged old Scotsman who reluctantly leaves his beloved isolated Hebridean island and travels to San Francisco to seek medical treatment. Moving in with his estranged son, Rory’s life will be transformed, just when he expects it least, through a newly found love for his baby grandson.


MSPIFF isn’t the only MN film festival that offers online programming. Twin Cities Film Fest also launched its own independent movie streaming platform, called TCFF Streams, on April 6. Not only would the platform offer thought provoking and entertaining American independent storytelling content, it will also spotlight past TCFF films and filmmakers, alongside other award winning content from across the country. Best of all, TCFF will revenue share with our artists!

Check out some of the best indie docs, feature films and shorts that have screened at TCFF. Even as we’re self-quarantining amidst state-mandated lockdown, we can still support local non-profit organizations AND the filmmakers that made the films!


What are YOUR thoughts about film festivals going virtual? 

Guest Review – Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell no Tales (2017)

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Directed By: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Written By: Jeff Nathanson
Runtime: 2 hrs 9 minutes

When I saw the first trailer for the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, I nearly sprained my eyeballs from rolling them so hard. While the first movie was enjoyable and still holds up as a fun adventure flick fourteen years later, the series has overstayed its welcome. The second and third were decent, but the fourth made it clear that these movies are pretty much just vehicles for Johnny Depp to ham it up as Jack Sparrow over and over, which I have issues with for a couple reasons. First is the domestic abuse allegations that came to light last year, which completely destroyed his likability for me-and for anyone who comments that Amber Heard is lying or it’s her fault: SAVE IT. While the allegations have changed how I feel about Depp, they’re not what this review is about, but if you insist on going there, I will fight you. Personal feelings aside, Depp’s acting hasn’t impressed me in a long time. His performances have become very one-note, not helped by playing the same character since 2003, which Disney has used as the primary marketing ploy for this movie. Because of this, I worried that they were compensating for an overall weak movie by putting most of the focus on its most popular character. With the fourth movie being so forgettable, my hopes weren’t high for this one.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales introduces us to Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of original trilogy hero Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). Henry has been spending most of his life searching for the mythical Trident of Poseidon, which could be the key to rescuing his father from The Flying Dutchman’s curse. Hoping his father’s old friend Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) can help him, Henry teams up with the pirate, along with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a scientist trying to navigate a mysterious map her father left her with when he abandoned her at birth. Along their journey, the three are pursued by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his ghostly crew, who want to prevent Jack from using the Trident to escape their revenge.

This movie’s main problem is that it tries to fit too many individual backstories into two and a half hours, leading to fan-fiction levels of bad, clunky exposition. We have Jack’s history with Captain Salazar, Henry’s lifelong mission to rescue his father, Carina’s mysterious parentage and struggles as a female scientist in the mid-to-late 1700’s, and even previous Pirates villain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) gets a forced backstory shoved into the last half hour. The magical item the characters are searching for is poorly explained; it’s just supposed to “break all curses,” which is incredibly vague. If this had been the start of a new trilogy, the pacing could have been better, but because this is (supposedly) the last film, everything is crammed into one movie, and it’s a mess.

That said, the writing isn’t completely hopeless. There is a surprising amount of genuinely funny dialogue, especially among Jack’s crew. I also enjoy that the main female character’s defining characteristic is her scientific prowess and having to deal with men not taking her knowledge seriously. It’s refreshing having a leading lady who’s more than just the romantic interest; her intellectual expertise is instrumental in reaching their goal.

Regarding the acting, I have mixed feelings. Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow was…fine. He plays the character the same way he always has, so while he doesn’t bring anything new to the role, at least he’s consistent. The two young leads, Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario, are decent but not especially memorable, although Kaya shows a little more promise than Brenton. Geoffey Rush is always fun to watch and gives an enjoyable performance here, brief as it is. My favorite, though, is Javier Bardem, who is so good at making anything sound menacing in that deep, gravelly voice. Hearing that he was playing the villain made me a little more excited about seeing this movie, and he did not disappoint.

There are other positive aspects of this film as well. Like its predecessors, Dead Men Tell no Tales is a visually interesting movie. The action is good and the fight choreography is fun, although it gets buried in some of the larger crowd scenes. The character design and CGI for Captain Salazar and his crew is truly spooky; even his ship looks scary. The costumes, hair, and makeup are beautifully detailed. The soundtrack is as epic as ever; although Hans Zimmer isn’t the main composer for this film (his protégé Geoff Zanelli is), his famous theme is prominent throughout the movie, and I will never get tired of hearing it.

Overall, this is a decent adventure movie. The storytelling is poor and some of the acting is underwhelming, but some of the dialogue is fun, and it’s pretty to look at. Good job, Disney. You made a better Pirates movie than the last one (although that bar wasn’t set very high). Now, please, for the love of God, stop.

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Have you seen ‘Pirates 5’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: The Gunman (2015)

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Sean Penn has been out of the limelight for a few years, so in order to get people talking about him and promotes his new movie; he decided to tell some lame joke at the Oscars. Kudos to his PR team, after the so-called “offensive” joke, Penn is relevant in Hollywood again. Now it remains to be seen if his off color joke will get people to go see his new action picture.

The movie opens with a flashback to 2006, Jim Terrier (Penn) is a humanitarian working in Congo with his buddies Felix (Javier Bardem) and Cox (Mark Rylance). Terrier also has a girlfriend named Annie (Jasmine Trinka), she’s also part of his team of do-gooders. What she doesn’t know is that Jim, Felix and Cox are a bunch of assassins working undercover. They’ve been assigned to take out an important political figure that their boss wanted to get rid of. After he assassinated Congo’s Minister of Mines, Jim disappeared and told Felix to look after Annie.

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Fast forward to present day, Jim is still working as a do-gooder in Africa, but things got dicey when some armed men came after him, of course being a super assassin, he took them out easily. Alarmed after the attack, Jim sets out to London to see his old buddy Cox, who’s now working as a top executive at some big corporation. Jim suspects that their mission back in 2006 has been compromised and it’s the reason why he’s being targeted. Cox is skeptical but assured Jim that he’ll look into this matter. After a brief stay in London, Jim heads to Spain to see Felix, who’s now married to Annie. Things got messy when assassins showed up at Felix’s house and now Jim and Annie are on the run. The rest of the movie is about Jim trying to figure out who’s after him and keeping Annie safe. This being an action movie, there has to be some shootouts and explosions between the boring scenes. And that’s the problem with this movie, it’s so boring! There’s nothing interesting about the plot or any of the characters, by the time the true villain is finally revealed, we the audience already figured out before the hero did. Not only was the movie boring, it also took itself way too seriously.

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Not known for being in action pictures, Penn was actually decent as an action hero. It’s obvious he worked out for a long time to prepare for this role, because he can’t seem to keep his shirts on in a lot of scenes. He also looked good in fight scenes, particularly a brutal hand-to-hand combat in the climatic sequence. But again he seems to take the role too seriously and doesn’t look like he has any fun with it. Being that he’s also the producer and co-writer, he must’ve demanded that he’s on the screen 99% of the entire run of the movie. I’ve never seen Jasmine Trinka in anything before this movie and she was okay as the damsel in distress, but it’s kind of creepy seeing her as the leading lady to a man who’s old enough to be her father. Bardem pretty much phoned in his role since it’s nothing more than a cameo. Ray Windstone might be the only one who seems to get what the movie should be about and had a lot of fun with his sidekick role. Fans of Idris Elba will be disappointed, he didn’t show up until the last 20 minutes or so of the movie and he’s more like a cameo. Although for those who wants to see him as 007, the filmmakers did give a little wink by naming his character with initials JB.

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I don’t know how much control director Pierre Morel has during the production, but he was going for the 70s espionage thrillers mix in with the Jason Bourne flicks and the result was a disaster. The pacing was very slow, about 20 to 30 minutes should’ve been edited out. What’s worse was that he shot most of the action scenes in that shaky cam up close style that I can’t stand. I still don’t understand why some directors still uses this kind of style, what’s the point of making action movies if you’re not going to show the action? The only good action sequence was the bloody hand-to-hand combat between Penn and an assassin. I won’t even go into the script because it’s so generic that most people can figure out what’s going on.

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This could’ve been a good action thriller if it didn’t take itself too seriously because I think Penn was believable as the action hero. But it’s obvious he has hidden agenda by making this movie. By masking it as an action picture, he probably thought he could get the message out to a wider audience. Unfortunately though, the movie was poorly written and directed. With a better script and tighter editing, it could’ve been good.

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Have you seen The Gunman? Well, what did you think?

Casting and Misc. News: FlixChatter’s Highlights

Happy Friday, everyone! I haven’t done a news post in a while and there have been some interesting developments of late, so let’s get to ’em, shall we?

  • Terrence Malick’s Untitled Love Story
    The notoriously reclusive and meticulous director Terrence Malick is reportedly been gathering up a cast for his yet untitled love drama. And what an impressive cast that is. So far Christian Bale, Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams and Olga Kurylenko have signed on to star in what’s been described as a “powerful and moving love story.” Malick is perhaps the opposite of the workaholic Ridley Scott, as he often goes for years in between films. He’s only got eleven movies under his belt, and was nominated for best director and adapted screenplay for The Thin Red Line.

    I confess I have never watched Bardem in anything, for some reason none of his movies interest me, yet, nothing against him personally. I’m most excited to see Bale here, as the first time he’s in a romantic drama under Malick’s direction was in the Pocahontas story The New World, it turns out to be one of my favorite role ever. He might be famous for his bad-ass roles where he’s either heroic or deranged, but his quieter, more vulnerable side is just as compelling, if not more so. He was great in the indie drama Metroland with Emily Watson, so a return to such a genre is definitely welcomed in my book.
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  • Solaris meets Wall-E starring Keanu Reeves?
    That combo description is courtesy of /Film, which is the impression they got about this sci-fi project called Passengers and its potential director. Here’s the synopsis: Passengers is set in the future on a spacecraft making a centuries-long interstellar voyage to a new planet. Due to a computer glitch, a single passenger (Reeves) awakens from cryogenic sleep 90 years before anyone else. Faced with the prospect of growing old and dying alone, he, in turn, awakens a beautiful woman.

    Italian director Gabriele Muccino directed Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds, and was known for directing romance and family dramas in the home country. The first time I heard of Muccino was when there’s news circulating that Gerard Butler is interested in working with him in a baseball drama Slide. Not sure if that’d happen now that Butler’s signed to do Machine Gun Preacher. As for Passengers, the role of the beautiful woman hasn’t been cast, and the casting agent in me thinks someone like Eva Green, Romola Garai, Olivia Wilde or Emily Mortimer would be nice, instead of going with more famous faces.

  • Did you know that John Malkovich – yes, that John Malkovich – has his own fashion label?
    I read about it a long while ago in CNN, in which he says “I’ve always had an interest in it and always loved doing it. I like design, I like details, to me it is just another form of self-expression.” His brand of eccentricity apparently also carries over to his fashion design, as this article by someone who knew him revealed “… [he] produce an elegant line in men’s clothing and also to name the collection after political tyrants or psychopaths. There is, for instance, the mini mullah coat, an ironic tribute to the former Taliban spokesman Abdul Salam Zaeef.” He was in Florence last month to promote his Technobohemian (say what?) fashion line in his Autumn/Winter 2010-11 collection. ”Technobohemian is a clothing line dedicated to the modern man,” he said to LifeinItaly.com. O-kay. If you’re curious what the heck his clothes look like, you can take a peek here, or as worn by Halle Berry’s gorgeous model partner Gabriel Aubrey.

    The 56-year old actor doesn’t stop there, he also owns a budget hotel called The Big Sleep Hotel in Eastbourne UK, because his friends and neighbor in Provence who’s a chocolate-heir-turned hotelier. Wow, I’d never guess that about Mr. Malkovich, but that’s cool!.
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  • Carrie Underwood’s film debut in Soul Surfer
    The country singer is joining other singer-turned-actress in her film debut in an inspirational biopic about Bethany Hamilton. According to NY Daily News, the movie will tell the tale of how the Hawaiian native Hamilton, now 19, returned to professional surfing just months after losing her arm in a shark attack six years ago. Underwood plays Sarah Hill, a youth counselor at Hamilton’s church whose friendship and support played a huge role in the surfer’s unlikely comeback. Anna Sophia Robb (Race to Witch Mountain) will play the devout Christian teen surfer, with Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as her parents, and Jack Nicholson’s daughter Lorraine will play Hamilton’s best friend, who was with her at the time of the attack. Underwood will begin the shoot in the Hawaiian island of Oahu following her scheduled gig to sing the national anthem in this year’s Superbowl.
  • Johnny Depp back in the directing chair
    It’s well-known that Johnny Depp’s performance as pirate Jack Sparrow was inspired by the rock legend, and now he’s going to chronicle his life in a documentary. In the Fandango blog, he was quoted as saying: “Now that I’m wiser, and that enough time has passed, I can experience directing again. Already next week I’ll start working on a Keith Richards documentary. While I’m in Drvengrad, my editor is already working on kilometers of archive footage and footage of his concerts. I’m very touched that Keith agreed to show up in front of my cameras.”I didn’t know Depp directed a movie before, but according that blog, he not only directed but also wrote and starred (alongside Marlon Brando!) in The Brave, about an American Indian who is released from jail and given the opportunity to star in a snuff film. I’d be curious to see his directing skills, and how honest the documentary will be about the Rolling Stones’ guitarist’s drug abuse and other shenanigans.