FlixChatter Review – The Secret: Dare to Dream (2020)

I have to admit that prior to seeing this film, I had never heard of the self-help book series called The Secret, which apparently was born out of a 2006 documentary film about the great mystery of the universe by Rhonda Byrne. The books, also written by Byrne, have become such huge best-sellers, endorsed by Oprah and translated into 50 languages. Evidently I don’t really Oprah, nor do I subscribe to the Law of Attraction way of thinking, which claims that thoughts can change a person’s life directly.

When I saw the trailer, I was more curious than intrigued, but I decided to give it a shot. The movie centers on a down-on-her-luck young-ish widow Miranda Wells (Katie Holmes) with three kids under the age of 16. Though she’s dating her wealthy store-owner boss (Jerry O’Connell, playing an unmemorable stock character), Miranda is broke, so broke that she can’t afford to fix her leaking roof or even pizza for dinner.

As luck would have it, one fateful afternoon she runs into (literally!) a mysterious guy during a fender-bender incident. Instead of being upset, Bray Johnson (Josh Lucas) offers to fix her front bumper AND her roof! Let’s just say his sheer positivity, and his way of dealing with her kids, pretty much charm his way into the Wells’ family. With a title called The Secret, naturally you expect that there’s something that connects Miranda and Bray, and the movie is far from subtle in its eventual revelation.

While watching the movie, I strive to suppress my cynicism and really enjoy the film for what it is. One thing I appreciate from the start is Miranda’s relationship with her three kids–they actually flow quite naturally and doesn’t make me cringe. I often find these kinds of Lifetime or Hallmark-inspired dramas to be chock full of cringe-worthy acting, now it’s not entirely devoid of it, mind you, but the kids are actually rather charming. Sarah Hoffmeister as Missy, Aidan Brennan as Greg, and especially Chloe Lee as Bess the youngest all have some cute moments in the movie. Veteran actress Celia Weston is truly the comic relief here as Miranda’s mother in law.

I haven’t seen Katie Holmes in anything memorable since oh I dunno, Batman Begins? To be fair though, she’s actually pretty decent here and believable as a caring mom who’s trying to make ends meet. It’s Josh Lucas that I have the biggest issue with, in regards to how his character’s written and his smarmy acting. He started off okay and I was even willing to go with his robust positive energy, dimpled smile and aw-shucks grin, but it was like eating candy when you’ve got a horrible cavity (you’ll know why I use this analogy when you’ve seen the movie). He’s like Mr. Perfect and even after a sliver of his past and the big secret was revealed, his character stays pretty much the same from beginning to end. Speaking of the ending, the saccharine sweet level was through the roof!

I think I’d have liked it a bit a lot more if the movie hadn’t been so predictable. My husband sat down with his laptop for the last half of the movie and he guessed who the character was that showed up towards the end, even though he wasn’t really following it closely. There are certain sincere moments, such as between Bray and Miranda’s son, but those are too few and far between to balance the plot contrivances and cheesy bits. This is far from being Andy Tennant‘s best work. He’s done much more memorable romantic dramas and rom-coms–Ever After, Hitch, even Sweet Home Alabama (which stars a less smarmy Josh Lucas). Ok so this one is slightly more watchable than The Bounty Hunter, but I blame Gerry Butler for that, ha!

I guess if you’re into Nicholas Sparks movies or those Hallmark rom-coms, this might be the movie for you. In the time of uncertainties amidst a pandemic, I welcome a film with a hopeful and uplifting message, sadly this one is pretty much drowned out by its own schmaltz.


Have you seen The Secret: Dare to Dream or read the books? I’d love to hear what you think!

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FlixChatter Review: Logan Lucky (2017)

It’s been ages since Steven Soderbergh, though I gotta admit I wasn’t too impressed with his last film Side Effects. But still, glad he didn’t end up retiring after all, and he returns to do a heist action comedy, as Soderbergh himself described, Logan Lucky is an anti-glam version of an Ocean movie (per EW) and it’s definitely much smarter than it looks.

Channing Tatum and Adam Driver play brothers Jimmy & Clyde who attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race in Charlotte, North Carolina. It did give me a pause for a moment considering what just happened in that town. In any case, they ended up enlisting an explosive expert aptly named Joe Bang (a hilarious Daniel Craig) to help with the plan. The film’s pacing could’ve been a bit more dynamic but fortunately it’s got enough going for it to keep my attention thanks to the actors’ performance. Watching these actors attempt Southern accent was a hoot, Craig was the most surprising as he’s a Brit but I thought Adam Driver’s accent was spot on and made me giggle every time.

The film offers plenty of laughs. There’s a pretty amusing cameo by Seth MacFarlane doing a spot on Cockney accent. But the funniest moments are during the heist itself, and I do think Craig has a career in comedy once his Bond stints are done. The heist faced some challenges along the way, but there’s a clever twist at the end that made you go ha!

I think the strength of the film is the likable characters. Unlike the handsome, well-dressed smarty-pants like the Oceans’ movies, the Logans and the Bangs siblings are simple folks. They’re essentially nice guys who have been dealt a bad hand at life. Jack Quaid and Brian Gleeson (yet another talented Irish actor from the Gleeson family!) as Joe Bang’s two brothers are pretty funny as well. Riley Keough (yep, Elvis’ granddaughter) is pretty decent as the sister of the Logan brothers, and cameos by Katie Holmes as Jimmy’s ex wife and Hilary Swank as a Federal Agent. There’s also a sweet father/daughter relationship between Jimmy and his daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie).

I just learned about Soderbergh’s unorthodox distribution deals for this film (made on a relatively low budget of $29 mil). Heh, that’s too bad Logan Lucky didn’t do well as I’d like more filmmakers getting creative control for their work. I hope more people would go and support this movie whilst it’s still in theatres. It’s a zany yet shrewd script by first time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt, who I hope would continue to get more work (that is if that isn’t just a pseudonym). It’s a pretty fun movie that never took itself too seriously, and I find it refreshing that it’s not mean-spirited nor foul-mouthed like so many comedies these days.


Did you see LOGAN LUCKY? Well, what did you think?

TCFF 2015 Indies Reviews: Touched With Fire + All the Time in the World + Band of Robbers

With just one day left in Twin Cities Film Fest, and I’m still playing catch up on reviewing the films I’ve seen so far! There’s still a few reviews I haven’t got around to, believe it or not. But I think I’ve done double the amount of posts I had last year, and definitely the most in my six years covering TCFF!

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Touched With Fire

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This film seems to be made as a love letter to the artists and creative people with bipolar disorder. The opening scenes introduced us to Carla and Marco in their manic state and how they ended up in the psychiatric hospital. Though they didn’t get off on the right foot initially, the two ended up bonding over a series of sleepless nights, and it’s inevitable they fall in love.

Touched With Fire is based on a book by clinical psychologist Kay Redfield JamisonTouched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, which is her exploration of how bipolar disorder can run in artistic or high-achieving families. Jamison herself suffered from bipolar and was put into lithium medication. She had a cameo in the film sharing about her illness to the characters.
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The film follow the journey of the two protagonists in the hospital, being separated by force and transitioning into living in the outside world. Naturally, their families have objections about the two starting a relationship, let alone living together. They think they’re a bad influence to each other, especially since one of them refuse to take their medication. I think it’s a moving portrait of a love story between two people suffering from manic depressive illness. The film is beautifully-shot and peppered with humor throughout. Kudos to writer/director Paul Dalio that depite the subject matter, the film never descend into sullen or depressing territory. Ultimately the two have to choose between sanity and love, and the bittersweet finale that tugs my heartstrings.

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I have to admit I didn’t think of Katie Holmes when I saw the role of Carla, but to her credit she did a terrific job in the role. I was equally impressed with Luke Kirby as I don’t remember seeing him in anything before. The two didn’t have the strongest chemistry together, but the direction somehow made it work to sell that they share such extreme passion. I also think the actors portray their characters’ bipolar condition with such sensitivity and credibility.

There are some slow moments and perhaps the film could’ve been tightly edited, but overall it’s wonderfully-acted and the script is quite engaging. This is another compelling directorial debut from Paul Dalio. Fans of many artists that the film is dedicated to, especially Vincent Van Gogh, will especially appreciate this film. I was surprised how many famous artists are listed before the end credits.

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All the Time in the World

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All the Time in the World,” having its world premiere at the Twin Cities Film Fest, is a locally-produced film. One of the goals of this film festival is to give local artists a voice. In that vein, this film succeeds. Unfortunately, as a movie it does not. Produced at Crown College in St. Bonifacius, it was written and directed by Nickolaus Swedlund and stars Drew Zoromski as Drew and Katie Thies as Katie. Perhaps the lack of creativity with the character’s names should have been my first clue.
The movie focuses on Drew, a college senior lost after a serious knee injury ends his football career followed closely by his girlfriend breaking up with him. (“Well, that’s cold,” I remember thinking about the girlfriend.) It starts slowly with endless scenes of Drew and Katie studying in the library and walking through fields having inane conversations. (“I don’t even like good macaroni and cheese…” is one of the most, or should I say, least memorable lines.)
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And then it gets even slower, showing Drew and his buddies hanging out and driving around. “I hear you talking but it’s just…noise,” Drew says at one point to his friends. Well said, Drew. I think most people can remember being in college and having that giant question hanging over them. (“Do something with your life,” one of Drew’s professors implores.)
I get that college is often more abstract in the academic world, and in that way this movie works. But for the most part, people’s everyday lives just aren’t that interesting.  Zoromski does an admirable job with what he has to work with in this film and he definitely gets a lot of experience giving the camera long, pensive looks. In the director’s notes Swedlund writes that “film is also about the process not the product.” Gosh I hope so.

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Band of Robbers

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Band of Robbers promises to give moviegoers a chance to hang out with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as adults. Will it be a show like “Wicked,” which adds a surprising layer of depth to an already well-known story and provides a fresh take on a classic tale, or will it ruin some of Mark Twain’s most iconic literary characters? I’m happy to say the film that recently had its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival is definitely the former.
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This absurdly funny crime caper stars Kyle Gallner as Huck Finn and Adam Nee as Tom Sawyer and was written and directed by brothers Aaron and Adam Nee. We pick up the story with the characters on opposite sides of the law: Huck Finn has recently been released from prison, while Tom Sawyer is on the police force…but now that Huck is free, Tom hatches a new plan for mayhem and mischief involving a hidden treasure.

The story is well-written, with numerous plot twists to keep the audience guessing, and the pacing of the film is superb – during the 95-minute film I never felt as though the plot was dragging. Fans of the books will also appreciate some of the subtle references – for example, in one scene Huck is laying on the grass smoking what looks like a corn cob pipe.

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But what really makes this movie shine is the deadpan delivery of the film’s shenanigans – Adam Nee is so mischievously endearing as Tom Sawyer you can’t help but root for him – and it makes me wonder if the Nee brothers watched a lot of the “Naked Gun” movies growing up. One thing to note about “Band of Robbers” though is that it is not a movie for kids as there is a fair amount of violence and foul language. As Tom Sawyer says in the middle of the movie, “This is typical classic pirate bull****.”

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Here’s what’s coming up on the final day of TCFF! 


What do you think about either one of these films?

 

10 Things I Love about Twin Cities Film Fest!

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And so it begins!! In less than 24 hours, the 6th annual Twin Cities Film Fest commences! Starting this Wednesday, we’ll have 11 days filled with cinematic festivities… 120+ films of national and international screenings, live musical performances, red carpet galas, cocktail mixers, film panel discussions and all kinds of special events for film lovers to enjoy. From today all the way until Halloween, SHOWPLACE ICON THEATRE is THE place to be for film lovers in the Upper Midwest!

I’ve been blogging for TCFF since its inception back in 2010 (all documented in my TCFF Archives page) and it just keeps getting better and better! Whatever type of cinephile you are, you’ll likely find something to look forward to at TCFF. Now, I’ve been wanting to do a top 10 list to kick off the event, so today seems as good a time as any.

How do I love thee TCFF? Let me count the ways…

A film fest with a cause

YouthlinklogoEach year TCFF brings awareness to an important social issue, such as bullying, hunger prevention, poverty, sex trafficking which were themes from the past few years. This year, the Twin Cities Film Fest is partnering with Minneapolis-based YouthLink, which serves as a resource center for homeless youth. According to the nonprofit, on any given day about 4,000 youth are homeless in Minnesota. We have four films tied to the topic of homelessness, including this opening night film, A New High. I think it’s cool that the organizers are mindful about the social issues of the community and make the most of the festivities for a great cause!

Great mix of studio + indie films

One of the perks of attending a film festival is that you get to see smaller independent films that you probably won’t get to see until much later when it’s available on VOD. But there’s something about going to the theater and seeing them on the big screen that makes it extra special. There are a plethora of great indies I’m looking forward to, some of them I’ve highlighted in this post. Three of the big studio movies I REALLY can’t wait to see are The 33, Brooklyn and Youth.

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TCFF’s artistic director Steve Snyder have highlighted some of the top ones from each day, here’s just a sampling from this week alone:

Wednesday, Oct. 21 – For Book Fans and Oscar Buffs: ROOM – This is probably the biggest film we’re screening. Period. But given the odd timing, there’s still seats available. It stars Brie Larson, is based on the hit book, and just took home the top prize of the Toronto International Film Festival.
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I saw this a couple of weeks ago at a press screening and was blown away. I’d be sorely disappointed if I don’t see Brie Larson’s name in this year’s Best Actress nominees!

Friday, Oct. 23 – War Film and History Buffs: Remember – Starring Christopher Plummer as a Jewish man who barely survived World War II and Auschwitz who sets out as an elderly man to get revenge against a Nazi camp guard.
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Saturday, Oct. 24 – Romantic Comedy and Katie Holmes‘ big comeback! Touched With Fire – Holmes returns to the movie screen in this South By Southwest smash shit. She plays a bipolar poet who befriends and then falls for another poet while admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
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The-Last-Great-Circus-FlyerSunday, Oct. 25 – Performance Arts: The Last Great Circus Flyer is one of the year’s best documentaries, about the greatest trapeze artist who ever lived – the first to ever complete a quadruple jump – who one day abruptly quit the circus and walked away. Director Philip Weyland AND the trapeze artist Miguel Vazguez himself will be present. This is a magical film.
Stay tuned for my in-depth interview with the gracious Mr. Weyland, I can’t wait to meet him and Miguel in person!

Eye-opening & entertaining documentaries

Speaking of great docs, well I’ve highlighted seven not-to-be-missed documentaries in this post. For the first time in TCFF’s six year’s existence, the fest will open AND close with a documentary feature: A New High and Thank You For Playing, respectively.

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Each year TCFF programmers seek out some of the most riveting documentary films to share with our festival goers. This year they went above and beyond! The FILM page on TCFF official site makes it easy to search films by genre, so as you can see under the Documentary page, there is something for everyone.

Growing female filmmakers represented

The gender disparity in Hollywood when it comes to female talents AND filmmakers have come under scrutiny of late and I certainly welcome the opportunity for discussions. So I’m always glad to see more and more women in the the notoriously male-dominated industry and pushing through challenges to get their films made.

These are just some of the female filmmakers whose films – big studio films/indies/docs/shorts – are screening at TCFF:

  • Shalini Kantayya – Catching the Sun
  • Patricia Riggen – The 33
  • Pamela Romanowsky – The Adderall Diaries
  • Emily Ting – It’s Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong
  • Stéphanie Joalland – The Quiet Hour
  • Vanessa Magowan Horrocks – Keepsake
  • Courtney Ware – Sunny in the Dark
  • Debra Granik – Winter’s Bone
  • Kelly Huang –A Refugee’s Story: Khamsay Huang (short)
  • Annie Silverstein – Skunk (short)

A variety of MN-connected films

It thrills me that Minnesota have such a booming arts & film culture… we have nearly 50 MN-connected films playing at TCFF just this year alone! Now, when we say MN-connected, it doesn’t always mean they’re filmed here or that the topic is about MN, but we also have MN-based producers financing Hollywood films.

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Some of those filmmakers/producers are coming to town, such as Andrew Putschoegl for NERDGASM, Justin Mikelson for The Dust Storm, and Zac Adams & Tim Vandesteeg for Autism in America doc. I also got a chance to interview executive producer Ralph S. Bovard for the indie sci-fi The Quiet Hour.

A plethora of great short films

ShortsBlockI tell myself that I need to see more short films, but I don’t always get around to checking them out. I’ve just reviewed a great short film In Vitro by actor Toby Stephens recently and I always think that short films can be just more effective and compelling than feature films.

So it’s great to see that TCFF continue to feature short films in blocks with various themes, i.e Land of 10,000 Stories, Coming of Age, Love American Style, Shoot to Kill, etc. I’ve seen a few of them and are REALLY impressed by the skills of these filmmakers in crafting engaging stories efficiently told in such a short time. In many ways, developing a short film serves as a launching pad for some filmmakers trying to break into the industry, so there’s definitely a ton of promising work represented here.

Insightful educational panels

I have to give kudos to Matt Cici who’s in charge of this year’s Educational Events. I came to know Matt from his directorial debut Lambent Fuse, and earlier this year he’s also played the lead in The Center. He’s put together a collection of great film panels, featuring screenplay reading and discussions on film trends. The best part? These events are FREE and takes place at TCFF Lounge right at Showplace ICON Theater, so if you’re going to see a movie anyway, might as well attend one of the panels and get great insights from film experts and those who’re working in films that are screening at the fest.

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Two of the panels I can’t wait to participate on are:

  • The Future of Film (Saturday, 10/24 @ 1pm-2:30pm)
    A discussion on the state of the film industry with some of the top media professionals in the publishing industry. Featuring film experts from publications like Variety & Twitch Film
  • Capturing the Image (Saturday, 10/31 @ 11am-12:30pm)
    A discussion on the challenges and tools of telling stories through images. Featuring award-winning cinematographers/directors of photography, i.e. Checco Varese who shot one of TCFF’s gala films, The 33.

Access to Talents & Filmmakers

Perhaps the best perks as a TCFF blogger is the opportunity to chat with filmmakers and talents involved with the fest. I definitely have the most interviews, perhaps more than the last two years combined! Most of the filmmakers/producers have been so gracious and kind in responding to my interview requests, so stay tuned for the interview posts in the next two weeks. Special shout out to directors Emily Ting, Philip Weyland, Brent Baum, Ryan Lacen and David Spaltro for taking the time to do the email interviews, can’t wait to see all of you at the fest!!

Great venue for films & mixers!

Of course the venue of a film festival is crucial for theatergoers and filmmakers to enjoy and it really doesn’t get any better than Showplace ICON Theatre at the Shops at West End! It’s become my favorite theater with its comfy VIP section and great lounge upstairs (fabulous burgers!).

Just one of the perks of for TCFF festival goers year after year is the mixers/after party. You can check out the Mixer schedule to see which band is playing on a certain night. Anyone with a ticket from a film that day may attend for no charge. We’re also offering a TCFF Festival Lounge Pass this year for people who just want to enjoy the mixers without buying a film ticket. The mixer space at the former Love Culture space across the street from the theater is three times as large as last year’s spot!

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Being around film fans

Last but not least, the best part of attending any film festival is being around fellow film fans! It’s awesome meeting new people who share the same passion, whether it’s just people who enjoy watching movies or those in the industry making them. It’s a fantastic place for networking or simply hang out with fun people who love movies!

I’m thrilled that this year I’d get to meet yet another fellow film blogger! Mike from Just Me Mike blog is actually coming to Minneapolis to cover TCFF! I’ve come to know Mike over the years and enjoyed reading his blog, so it’ll be a treat to hang out with him in person starting tomorrow. Of course I also look forward to hanging out with my friends and FlixChatter blog contributors Ted S. (whom most FC readers already know) and Sarah J. who’ve helped cover TCFF in the past years!

So thank you Jatin Setia, Naomi Dahlgren, Steve Snyder, Bill Cooper, Dani Palmer & the rest of TCFF staff for always bringing your A-game year after year in bringing us this awesome film event!!


Well that’s just a sampling of why I’m super excited for TCFF 2015! Stay tuned for a complete coverage of the fest and see which movies you wouldn’t want to miss!

Flix Poster of the Week: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

The swirly yellow font treatment set against stark black caught my attention in the Apple trailer page, but the official poster set in nifty illustration is even more artsy. I love how the monsters’ hands guide draw your eyes down to the terrified-looking girl and down to that script fonts of the title. Very creative, but man is it ever creepy!

Synopsis:
Sally Hurst (Bailee Madison), a lonely, withdrawn child, has just arrived in Rhode Island to live with her father Alex (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend Kim (Katie Holmes) at the 19th-century mansion they are restoring. While exploring the sprawling estate, the young girl discovers a hidden basement, undisturbed since the strange disappearance of the mansion’s builder a century ago. When Sally unwittingly lets loose a race of ancient, dark-dwelling creatures who conspire to drag her down into the mysterious house’s bottomless depths, she must convince Alex and Kim that it’s not a fantasy—before the evil lurking in the dark consumes them all.

One of the principal writers of the movie is Guillermo del Toro, the Mexican director who made the violent and also creepy fantasy thriller Pan’s Labyrinth. That’s one movie I won’t be able to ever see again, even if I admire its creativity and style. I don’t think I’ll be able to see this one given my distaste for horror flicks. Besides, my nerves had been stretched to its snapping point just watching the trailer!

Watch it for yourself below… if you dare.